Coogs Come Together To Upset #2 Virginia


The differences between the Houston Cougar team that traveled to Charlottesville from the team we saw in the second half a week ago were encouraging. The Coogs that went on the road and beat the #2 team in the country in front of 14,000+ Virginia fans looked nothing like the team that faded down the stretch against Alabama last Saturday.

Against Alabama, the UH players were so excited about the crazed atmosphere of Fertitta Center that they all tried to be the hero. The results were very unlike what the program has become under Kelvin Sampson: a lack of passing, a selfish style of play, and, ultimately, losing a big lead late.

At the start of the UVA game, it sure looked like the same team that wilted against Bama. At tipoff, the Cavalier slugged Shasta right in the face, jumping to a 9-0 lead thanks to Kihei Clark and a Cougar offense that couldn’t figure it out. J’Wan Roberts finally knocked down a layup four minutes into the game to settle UH down.

From that moment forward, the Cougars looked like the Houston Cougars we know.

A week ago, those Cougars panicked. They took poor shots, stemming from a lack of off-ball movement. It’s the same issue that haunted them against Kent State when UH’s offensive troubles first showed themselves in a big way. The Cougars of December 10th could not guard the dribble, allowing Alabama to drive time and time again. Up comfortably, UH had no sense of urgency as the Tide used a streetball offense to chip away at the lead. Jarace Walker played tentatively, as he did through much of the first part of the season.

But against Virginia, the passing was crisper, and the players rotated correctly, spacing the way Kelvin Sampson has preached all fall. And the defense stepped up against Virginia’s baseline moves, and, finally, Jarace Walker proved his potential in a game. But not any game – perhaps the most daunting road atmosphere UH will play all season. Houston played with urgency for 40 minutes at Virginia, finally syncing it with the game plan after a rough start.

The Houston culture is discussed on every television broadcast and by every writer looking for an angle. But, unfortunately, it’s both cliche and widely misunderstood. The culture is not about saving a possession by diving on the ground or a hustle play. That’s only the result.

That culture is an ever-evolving yet unchanging process. It is evident in the pairing of roommates, with veteran J’Wan Roberts rooming with the freshman phenom Jarace to help him understand the 24/7 life of a Houston basketball player. J’Wan does not live with Jarace for the St. Joe’s and McNeese State. It’s for games like UVA and those in conference play and in March.

The culture is evident in the accountability demanded by teammates in private locker room meetings where coaches aren’t allowed and players discuss culture violations among themselves. And the culture is quite evident in the film room – where the mistakes of the last game are rehashed, sometimes repeatedly, and for seemingly hours on end. After a game like Kent State or Alabama, those sessions can be grueling.

After last Saturday’s loss, Houston spent the week focused entirely on Virginia. Everything the Coogs did was fixed on taking away what the ‘Hoos do best while hammering at the issues the Crimson Tide exposed. Starters were rested vs. N.C. A&T, helping them regain their legs between two physically and emotionally exhausting games.

The results were clear: Houston passed the ball better than any game save Norfolk State, and the shot selection was as good as it had been all year. Houston shot 49% for the game but notably was 11/14 (78.6%) at the basket. A week ago, at home against Alabama, UH was 12/21 (57.1%) at the hoop. The discipline and the extra pass, missing last Saturday at Fertitta, helped the Coogs get better access to and shots at the rim.

In the span of a week, the Cougars lost the first-ever home game between top-10 teams and then won a road game against the highest-ranked team in school history. Not bad for mid-December.

More GoCoogs Content


Don't Miss