TIME TO RELOAD

Despite Final Four loss to Baylor, the future remains bright for Coogs

Houston was no match for Baylor.Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Amid the scoring droughts, overall lack of firepower, and stupid jokes on the set by Charles Barkley, the Cougars were simply outmatched. However, Cougars Nation can hold their heads high. Ignore the scoreboard and the end result of 78-59, the Houston Cougars identity is firmly intact, and they are well positioned for the future. In many ways, the Cougars had already "won" before stepping onto the court Saturday Night at Lucas Oil.

The scoreboard sometimes doesn't matter in the overall picture. The "bigger" storyline is that U of H basketball is "back" at an elite level, generating far more interest in town than even the pro team that takes up residency at Toyota Center. Kelvin Sampson's program will remain in title contention for years to come. They will remain elite, because Sampson doesn't have "quit" in his DNA. During Saturday's blowout loss to Baylor, I thought of Gloria Clemente's character from the movie White Men Can't Jump, played by actress Rosie Perez. Her quote of "sometimes when you lose, you really win." Houston's recent achievements are vast and well documented. (Anyone that can survive three weeks cooped up in hotel rooms in Indianapolis, are stronger than most.)

Give credit to Baylor, especially the depth on their bench. More than anything, the 17-0 point differential in the first half paved the way for the Bears' first half dominance. Aside from Marcus Sasser, the offense really never got on track. Certain stretches reminded me of a decade ago, as I witnessed the offensive futility of a national title game at Reliant. On that particular night, the Butler Bulldogs struggled in putting a meager 41 points on the scoreboard in a loss to U-Conn.

Expect the Cougars to reload. Expect future runs to the Final Four, and if the stars align, they might even cut down the nets in two years at NRG Stadium. The future is bright!

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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