HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Big things are ahead

The Final Four in 2016 was a huge success. Courtesy photo

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

A new year and a few more things that could have Houston sports fans celebrating.

Yes, we’re just a little more than month away from the inaugural star-studded Houston Sports Awards Feb 8 at the Hilton Americas and more than excited, but we’re talking longer term here.

Sometime this summer, the NCAA will determine the cities that will host the Men’s Final Four from 2023-2026 and the Women’s Final Four from 2021-2024 and, yes, Houston is in the running for both.

Doug Hall, Vice President of Special Projects for the Houston Sports Authority, said the group submitted the Men’s Final Four bids in mid-December and is putting the finishing touches on the Women’s Final Four bid, due this spring.

Houston drew great reviews as host for the 2011 and 2016 Men’s Final Fours, but, despite several bids, has never been selected to host a Women’s Final Four. They are, without question, different events.

The men’s event is a stadium event that draws incredible crowds. Hall estimates there are only about a dozen cities in the country that have the facilities to host the men.

The women’s event is smaller, more of an arena event and opens up many more potential host cities. Hall said the proposal would make Toyota Center available for the event.

The 2016 Final Four Championship game came down to Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer that gave Villanova a 77-74 win over North Carolina. It was Villanova’s first national title since 1985.

At the time, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, calls the game “one of the best national championship games in tournament history.” The event attendance total was 149,845 – at the time, the second highest attendance in Men’s Final Four history. The championship game drew 74,340, also, at the time, the second-highest in championship game history.

The 2017 Final Four in Phoenix pushed both those numbers to third on the all-time list, but with the scope of the event changing annually, it is no surprise.

“We certainly have built on the success of the 2011 and 2016 Men’s Final Fours, but part of our proposal is toward the future,’’ Hall said. “The tournament continues to evolve. It’s a long way away and we expect that it will grow in size and scope.’’

Gavitt also noted Houston “showed the teams and fans Southern hospitality and put on terrific fan events, including youth clinics, the March Madness Music Festival and the Final Four Fan Fest.”

You can expect Houston to keep looking forward – it’s what made the 2017 Final Four special and Super Bowl LI one of the best ever.

Like Hall said, it’s all evolving. And if Houston manages to land one or both of the events? By 2021-2026, those events will look different than 2018 events.

Houston will be ready.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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