The Pallilog

Sampson's future hangs over UH in Tournament

Kelvin Sampson. Bob Levey/Getty Images

What a week. An Astros' season of immense potential is under way with newly contract-extended Justin Verlander very sharp opening day (minus a leadoff homer), the Rockets won a game over Denver that was absolutely essential toward any chance of ascending to the second seed in the Western Conference, and the University of Houston plays a Sweet 16 game for the first time in 35 years.

More on the Cougars first. For the moment it's still about this spectacular season. The second it's over becomes about whether Head Coach Kelvin Sampson is heading for Arkansas or anywhere else. First things first. Kentucky is very good, with substantially more highly regarded talent and most of the NBA prospects. But the teams appear to be pretty even. The outcome could tilt on the availability and effectiveness of UK forward P.J. Washington. The Wildcats' leading scorer and rebounder sprained a foot during the SEC Tournament and didn't get out of a cast until Tuesday. An on his game Washington would team with Reid Travis to give the Cats two 6'8" guys who can both post up and face up. That would be very challenging for UH's stout defense which is stouter on the perimeter than inside. With just Travis to defend, the Coogs are in good position to pull off what would be a very mild upset. The UH-UK winner probably falls to North Carolina Sunday. Or maybe Auburn takes down the Tar Heels first. March Madness!

Now the possible looming gloom and doom. What Kelvin Sampson has done in building the previously moribund University of Houston basketball program is simply spectacular. Alas, he may want to move on. As exasperating as it would be for Cougar rooters to lose another head coach who has done good work, there are realities. I don't think this would be a money play, though while Sampson makes about 1.5 mil at UH, fired Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was over 2.5 mil. Maybe having his name attached to the Sooie Pig gig merely sets a baseline for Sampson's redone UH deal. The SEC is a better league than the AAC with millions and millions of dollars more in prestige and clout. Arkansas has the larger and more rabid fan base. The Razorbacks play in Walton Arena where in an 18-16 season their smallest home attendance was more than 13,000. The first season of Fertitta Center made for a fantastic environment, but capacity was held to barely 7,000 for reasons.

Whatever decision Sampson makes is entirely his to make. I'd scoff at leaving Houston for Fayetteville, but I'm not a rich college basketball coach. At 63 years old Sampson is much closer to the end of his career than to its beginning. If a bigger stage opportunity, challenge, and chance to be THE game in town are what he wants, good for him. Sampson (plus the facilities) turned the UH job into a much more desirable position that if open will attract quality candidates.

One line I would draw if I were UH, is not agreeing to anoint Kelvin's son Kellen "Head Coach In Waiting." Kellen is a promising young assistant, but he is thinly credentialed for what the UH job now is or will be if Kelvin stays and retires at whatever point.

Rockets roll

Critical win for the Rockets over Denver Thursday night to take the season series and tiebreaker. If the Rockets win out to finish 54-28, to snatch the second seed they need the Nuggets to lose four of their remaining eight games. The Nuggets are 31-6 at home with four probable wins left in the Mile High City (Wizards, Spurs, Blazers, T'Wolves), but have road games at Oklahoma City, Golden State, Portland, and Utah. On the other side of the coin the Rockets have one more loss than do the Trail Blazers and Portland owns the tiebreaker.

Earlier this week the Bucks beat the Rockets. That game reinforced the reality that any claim that James Harden is the only choice for MVP, is either local yokel boosterism or ESPN's Mike Greenberg sounding silly. Only the biased or ignorant do not find Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo a wholly legitimate alternative. Harden's offensive season is historic and he is of course worthy of winning MVP again. Ditto worthiness of the "Greek Freak" who is averaging more than 27 points on better than 50 percent shooting (58), 12 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. The full list of players in NBA history to average those numbers for a season: Antetokounmpo. Um, that's historic too. And he's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the dominant star of the team with the best record in the league.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Back-to-back Elite 8s for Texas Tech. Over the last two seasons no c-hoop coach has been better than Chris Beard. Gonzaga's O vs.Tech's D should be something Saturday. 2. Hook 'Em! Final Four! Of the NIT. Cue laugh track. 3. Things that go best with peanut butter: Bronze-marshmallow Silver-banana Gold-chocolate of course

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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