The Cougars and the crowd met the moment on Monday

It was 7:10 p.m. I was sitting on the sideline near the basket where UH was shooting, filming warmups. In these moments, I always take time to absorb my surroundings. And my overarching emotion was surprise. The students were flooding in, but that has happened for big games. It was the rest of the crowd that shocked me. Fans were filling in the arena, too, some 53 minutes until tipoff. They were noisy, buzzing with pent-up energy. I’d never seen this for a UH game.

Houston fans were asked. They were challenged, even. Implored. Be in your seat at tip-off. And for two big home games in a row, they responded. The Fertitta Center was packed well before the teams took the floor. With 5:55 left before the game, the ESPN feed panned to the cheerleaders on the baseline, with sections 110 and 111 showing behind them. Absolutely jammed.

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A bit earlier, the players burst from the tunnel for their last shoot-around at the 32-minute mark. The students and much of the arena gave them a big ovation. When it happened on Saturday, it surprised the players. This time, the reactions were minimal—a few wry smiles.

The energy in the arena was heightened, but so were the expectations. Fans have embraced this scratch-and-claw team. This second-shot team. This out-grind you and out-tough you team. And the team responds to those expectations, having run off 19 straight in this building before the Iowa State game.

In almost every way you can describe Houston, you can describe Iowa State similarly. They’re tough. They’re grinders. Every time Houston was a bucket away from game control, Iowa State got a stop. And then Iowa State got a three. The Cougars wanted to pull away in the first half, but Iowa State inched back. Houston grew the lead to 13, but Iowa State pulled within five at the break.

And they never went away.

It’s not like Houston played poorly in the second half. UH shot 57% and 46% from three! And made 14/17 free throws! That’s the best FT% in the second half of this season.

But for every bucket, the Cyclones responded. Every chance Houston had, Iowa State cut them off. Then, Ja’Vier Francis dunks it, and a minute later, Emanuel Sharp swishes a three. Coogs are up 11. UH goes down and plays solid defense, and Curtis Jones misses a pull-up. Rebound Cougars. A bucket here, and the roof pops off the place.

But no.

It seemed like a careless pass. Jamal Shead tried to get it to J’Wan Roberts in the short corner. But the pass was wide and went out. J’Wan is frustrated he couldn’t get to it. As the horn blows and three subs come in, Shead gets an earful. And then, Jamal got that look on his face. I’ve seen that look.

Jamal throws it out of bounds // © 2024 by Mario Puente

Lipsey brings it up, but Shead snags it and gets it out to L.J. Cryer. There’s your roof pop. But clank. It would have put the Coogs up 14. J’Wan gets an offensive rebound and goes up for a layup. Miss. The other way, Lipsey feeds Gilbert and swish—another three. What could have been a 14-point lead is now down to eight. But there’s Shead: he buries a three in response with time winding down. Sampson knew he needed to get Shead a breather, so he came out on an LJ Cryer foul.

Iowa State goes down and hits another three, and they trade turnovers. Lipsey takes it from Mylik Wilson, and Curtis Jones hits another three. Kelvin Sampson calls time. Three ISU threes have followed that soon-to-be 14-point lead. Methodical Cyclones while the Cougars are in disarray.

Kelvin Sampson draws up a play in the second half // © 2024 by Mario Puente

Shead checks back in. Iowa State makes a free throw to cut it to four. But here comes Uno: a bomb grows the lead to seven. ISU chips it back to five before Shead gets a steal and goes in for a lay-up. Iowa State hits another three, but Shead responds with a pullup-jumper. Six-point lead. Over eight minutes, Shead is the only Cougar to score. He willed his team into a rope-a-dope battle.

Finally, with 7:18 left, J’Wan Roberts hits a second-chance layup. Back to eight. But there’s Tre King and another three for the Cyclones. Emanuel Sharp hits two free throws, and Roberts and Robert Jones trade layups. Tit for tat. Tit for tat.

Shead makes two free throws, but King goes down and hits another three. ISU is 7/9 from three in the second half. That shot by King cuts it to six, but they’ll never get closer. Houston is saved by the unlikeliest of heroes: free throws and Mylik Wilson.

Shead makes five more free throws down the stretch, and Emanuel Sharp makes six. Shead is fouled while making a skip pass to Mylik Wilson, who buries a corner three after the whistle. Shead hits both, and the lead is eight. Wilson rebounds a miss on Iowa State’s next possession and goes to the same corner. Shead starts to drive, drawing Mylik’s defender, then dishes to him. Swish. Timeout Iowa State. The dagger three that Houston needs comes from its most unlikely source.

Mylik Wilson driving in the first half // © 2024 by Mario Puente

But that’s how it goes. Prepare like your turn is coming, and be ready when the ball flies your way. Mylik ran the scout team all year last season, and he’s often the first out for warmups and the last to leave most practices. He works to make his unconventional shooting style more consistent. He’s been trusted with minutes and a growing role due to his activity on the glass and defense. But on Monday, they asked him to go further. And he delivered.

Iowa State is a team to avoid going forward. They are well-coached and drain your soul. But Houston held on, draining souls of their own en route to winning their fourth straight. The Cougars now have the longest winning streak in the league (five games) and tied for the second-longest, the current four-game streak. After the road losses to Iowa State and TCU, Houston has won 9 of 10.

Monday might have been the biggest in a Big 12 season of grueling games. It wasn’t a slog like in Ames but a well-played, high-level street fight. Coming off an emotional win on Saturday, the team could have folded after any of the haymakers the Cyclones threw. But they took every punch and won the 12-round brawl.


Cougar After Thoughts Show (CATS!) – Houston & Iowa State


Ryan Monceaux
Ryan Monceaux
Ryan is the guy from GoCoogs. He is also a real estate agent and entrepreneur.

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