Cougars can’t keep up with Canes as season comes to painful end


As he does after every game, Kelvin Sampson wrote the Cougars’ record on the whiteboard in the locker room after Friday night.

For just the fourth time this season, Sampson added a loss.

Houston’s dominant 33-win season came to a deflating end in a deflating 89-75 loss in the Sweet 16. The Cougars could not stop Miami’s category-five onslaught. The Hurricanes hit 11 three-pointers in the first 30 minutes of the game, led by Nijel Pack’s seven treys (26 points total).

“The Pack kid, some of the shots he made were shots you hope he takes,” Sampson said afterward. “The problem was he made them. Those were — some of those were Howitzers.”

The Cougars looked to repeat the second-half dominance they displayed against Auburn the previous weekend and seemed to be on its way early on, but came up short.

After being held scoreless in the first half, Jamal Shead turned on the switch and began leading the Cougars’ comeback. But when Houston closed to within one possession, Pack buried three straight deep triples to destroy the Cougars’ momentum at the under-12 timeout.

That tear by Pack started a 16-4 Miami run that UH could not recover from. Sampson said it was a situation of one player’s hot shooting impacting the entire team.

“Pack’s range was a little better than I anticipated. We guarded him to 23, 24 feet. He hit some tough ones. When you hit tough shots like that, it kind of raises the level of play of everybody.”

The Cougars shot a dismal 35% from the floor in the second half and made just one three-pointer. Houston’s bread and butter is unscripted points – points off turnovers, second-chance points, especially – but Miami did not allow UH

“Tonight was just — we just couldn’t get anything going,” Sampson said. “We scored 10 points on second-chance points and 4 points off turnovers. That’s…14 points. It probably needed to be 14 in each category.”

After the game, Jarace Walker officially declared for the NBA Draft. Walker was 4/16 shooting on the night.

The first half was played at a blistering pace that favored an energetic Miami team, as six Cougar turnovers allowed the Canes to get out in transition and score 15 easy points. Tramon Mark started out hot, hitting three shots in the first five minutes. However, Mark cooled all the way down and only hit one shot for the rest of the game.

Marcus Sasser had a solid first half with 11 points, but the turnovers and hot shooting from the Canes put the Cougars at a 42-36 halftime deficit. It was the second straight game that UH allowed more than 40 points in the first half.

Marcus Sasser obstructed on his way to the basket // Photo courtesy of Houston Athletics

Jamal Shead was the only Cougar to shoot better than 50% from the floor, going 6-11 for 15 points as well as five assists. He was 6-8 in the second half.

The 89 points the Canes scored are the most Houston has let up all year, 12 points better than the 77 points USF back in January.

With Alabama’s loss to fellow five-seed San Diego State less than an hour earlier, the Elite Eight will have no one-seeds for the first time since full-bracket seeding began in 1979.

UH finished the season with a record of 33-4 and will now look ahead to the challenge of its first season in the Big 12 next year.

“I’m proud of my team for a lot of things,” Sampson said. “Unfortunately, one off-night and you go home in this tournament.”

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