A BIG VICTORY

Kelvin Sampson's Cougars get signature win by knocking off No. 7 Wichita State 73-59

Kelvin Sampson led the Cougars to a big win. UHCougars.com

Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars may have finally arrived. 

The Cougars got a long-awaited signature win, knocking off No. 7 Wichita State 73-59 on Saturday at the Health and P.E. Center on the TSU campus. Joe Lunardi had the Cougars on his "first four out" of the tournament list before Saturday's game. They are now 15-4 on the season after the win, 5-2 in the tough American Conference, tied for second in the standings. Their best prior win before this was probably over Arkansas in early December.

Sampson is in his fourth season at UH, and has his best team to date. His teams won 13, 22 and 21 games in his first three years, respectively, but were never really tournament threats. 

Now they should be. They still have some tough tests ahead -- but also games that could be resume builders. They face Cincinnati and SMU twice, and still have Memphis on the schedule. So while they might not be a tournament team yet, they are in the conversation, and a winning record against that group down the stretch would probably get them there. 

Senior guard Rob Gray continues to play at a high level, leading the Cougars with 24 points on an array of drives and pull-ups. The Cougars played tough defense, and held their own with a big Wichita State team that dominated the boards, including 17 offensive rebounds. But the Cougars also forced 18 turnovers and were never really threatened down the stretch. It was a huge win, in that the Shockers had won 11 straight road games before Saturday's game, and routed Houston just over a week ago. It was Houston's first win over a top seven team since 1996.

Thus, it was fitting that the school is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, UH's signature 71-69 win over Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and UCLA at the Astrodome that launched the modern TV era of college basketball. That UH team would lose a rematch in the Final Four. 

This Houston team has a long way to go to even make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. But Saturday was a huge step in the right direction.

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