There is a fine line between good and great, and Houston Cougar Basketball has been walking that line since conference play began.
There have been close battles against UCF, a loss to Temple, and too-close-for-comfort wins against Wichita State and Cincinnati. But on Sunday, we saw something different. We saw this UH team flip the switch midgame, going from good to great. After trailing at the half, the Cougars blew Temple out of the water in the final 20 minutes.
What made the difference? A couple of ounces of effort, more focus, and a slight tweak in the defensive scheme. These things amount to minor changes, but they can make a massive difference in the outcome of games. UH is good enough to beat everyone on their schedule; at 22-2, they do that regularly. We also know they are dominant enough to dismantle everyone they play. This team does not have a ceiling.
Sunday, after the half, they finally remembered who they were. They stopped trying to play hard, and instead, they competed. Instead of playing to achieve a result, they played to meet Kelvin Sampson’s standard of play. That standard requires competition, focus, and over-the-top intensity. When they play to that standard, the wins take care of themselves.
In real-time, UH fans saw the Cougars transform. They cranked up the intensity level and began playing to the standard. Kelvin said he ran three-straight plays for J’Wan to start the second half, and in 90ish seconds, he had a bucket, two boards, a block, and an assist.
In 158 seconds, UH turned a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Cougars shot 4/4, had three rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block, and three free throws made. Temple did not make a shot, nor did they get a rebound. In fact, they only made the stat sheet for turnovers, fouls, and substitutions.
It was the most dominant mini-stretch of basketball of the season.
Coming out of the half, Sampson decided to make a defensive change to stop trapping the pick and roll. That’s a pretty incredible change because Sampson almost always traps that play. But the Coogs adjusted and started just covering the passing lanes, forcing Temple to make adjustments on the fly. They got out of their game plan and allowed UH to do what they do best: make you uncomfortable and suck the air out of the room.
UH finished the second half shooting 72%, and had 12 assists and four steals while committing just one turnover. Meanwhile, Temple made just seven shots while turning it over seven times (and had 6 shots blocked).
Kelvin Sampson builds his teams towards March, and the second half at Temple was the first glimpse of it all coming together. But, of course, this happens every year with Kelvin Sampson’s teams. They learn how to play together, Kelvin figures out what they can handle on the floor, and they elevate to another level.
We had our first taste of that next level on Sunday, and it was delicious.
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