The Houston Cougars record a season-high 11 blocks in a blowout victory over the UTEP Miners.

Cougars defense tops Miners in blowout victory

Cougars defense tops Miners in blowout victory
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It did not take long for the Houston Cougars to pick up where they left off during the second half of their previous game. Playing with high energy on both ends of the floor, the Cougars took a 77-57 victory over the UTEP Miners, Thursday night, inside the Fertitta Center in Houston.

With the win, the Cougars improve to 7-3 on the season while the Miners suffered their second loss of the year with an 8-2 record.

"We keep getting better and believing in what we are doing," head coach Kelvin Sampson said after the win. "This team is still learning how to play with each other, and we gotta keep fighting and getting better."

Although they had a solid night on the offensive end shooting 43.9% from the floor, and 50.0% from behind the arc, the Cougars' performance on the defensive end is what led to a wire-to-wire victory. UH recorded a season-high 11 blocks with junior big man Brison Gresham leading the way with a career-best six rejections to protect the paint. In addition to recording 10 points, Gresham also received his first double-double of the season with 12 rebounds.

"It's the way I practice," Gresham said. "I put in a lot of work over the past two days and I feel like my energy carried over to the game."

Houston led by double figures for the majority of the game, but the Miners went on several runs in a come back attempt. UTEP's biggest stretch came late in the first half on a 12-0 run to cut their 15-point deficit down to three. The Cougars withstood the Miners' surge to take a 37-27 lead into the half.

Following a career performance against the OSU Cowboys on Sunday, Caleb Mills scored 17 points (7-17 FG, 2-2 3PT) in his first career start in the win. With his fifth double-double of the season, sophomore guard Nate Hinton added 17 points of his own to go along with 10 rebounds.

"Nate [Hinton] is one of those guys you take for granted because he does it every night," Sampson said. "The most impressing thing about Nate tonight, he had 17 points on six shots — very efficient."

In the loss, the Miners were led by junior forward, Bryson Williams, who scored 17 points while shooting 7-for-19 from the field (37%), 3-for-6 (50%) from deep. The only other player to score in double figures for UTEP was Souley Boum, who recorded 13 points.

Following the win, the Cougars will hit the road to compete in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic inside the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu on Dec. 22-25.

Quick Notes:

  • After going scoreless in his last game, Quentin Grimes scored four points shooting 2-for-8 from the floor.
  • The Cougars won the battle of the boards out-rebounding the Miners 49-34.
  • The Cougars scored a total of 34 points in the paint.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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