Fifth-ranked Houston scored its highest-ranked road win in school history in a 69-61 statement win over No. 2 Virginia. The stout Cougar defense and freshman Jarace Walker’s best game as a Cougar were the difference in Charlottesville.
“Today, the tougher, sounder team on the defensive end won,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said after the game.
UH got off to a horrendous start, missing their first six shots and falling behind 9-0. J’Wan Roberts laid it in to get the Cougars going, sparking a 7-0 run from UH to close the gap. The Cavaliers hit two straight threes and led at the under-12 timeout, 15-9. And that’s when the lessons from the Alabama game began to show.
The UH offense opened up thanks to improved ball movement and off-ball actions, helping Marcus Sasser catch fire from three. However, the Coogs fought back, going on a 17-4 run over the next eight minutes, making six-straight shots. Virginia called timeout to stop the bleeding, as Houston took a 26-19 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.
Virginia started to claw back, but Jarace Walker stepped up, hitting a driving hook shot and a jumper just inside the arc. The Cougars went to the locker room with a 30-26 lead.
UVA’s Jayden Gardner drove for a layup on the first possession of the second half to close the gap to two. But Jarace Walker stepped up again, knocking down a tough layup and the and-one. After the Cavs came back and scored again, a Jamal Shead pull-up jumper would be the catalyst for a 10-2 Cougars run that included a catch-and-shoot three from Walker and a near-five-minute stretch without a Virginia field goal. UH would cap the run with a Tramon Mark three off a spinning assist from Shead. The Cougars led 43-32 with 14 minutes to go.
Later, Shead would lose the ball on a drive and barely save it from going out of bounds before getting it to a cutting Mark, who found a streaking Reggie Chaney for a monster two-handed slam. The play was emblematic of how the Cougars played on this night – all-out hustle, unselfishness, and excellent ball movement.
Walker took over for the Cougars in the final five minutes, halting a mini-comeback from Virginia. Jarace grew up on that court Saturday, playing the most impactful basketball of his short college career. With the score 51-44 and Virginia in the bonus, Walker would score or assist on Houston’s following 12 points to seal the game.
Walker popped a three-pointer with a second to second to spare on the shot clock, and then a few possessions later after Virginia closed the gap to 56-50, he found Mark in the corner for a dagger three. On the next trip down the floor, Walker hit a contested stepback to all to ice it, giving UH an 11-point lead with under 100 seconds left.
Having been called for just six fouls in the first 38+ minutes, Virginia committed seven fouls in the last 71 seconds, hoping for a miracle. Instead, Houston made eight-straight free throws to end the game.
All five UH starters scored in double digits, something that had never happened against Bennett in 442 games at Virginia. Jarace Walker scored 17 and had seven boards, with Sasser and Mark each adding 13 points. Houston assisted on 17 of 25 buckets in the game after only seven assists in 25 made shots vs. Alabama.