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Houston earns another trip to the Sweet Sixteen behind a gritty defensive performance and the scoring effort of Taze Moore.
PITTSBURGH – Houston relied on hard-nosed defense and extra possessions to earn a third straight trip to the Sweet-16 defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini, 68-53, Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
“When we talk about watering trees, we don’t water leaves; we water roots,” Coach Kelvin Sampson said in his postgame interview. “The roots in our program are our culture. And every one of these kids buys into it, and that’s why we’re successful.”
The “culture” has propelled the Cougars to another memorable tourney run after facing serious adversity earlier this season. In late December, Houston lost three of their star players to injury, two of which would be season-ending.
Hopes of another Final Four appearance seemed bleak.
Sampson referred to the day he received the news regarding each player’s injury status as “Black Friday.”
But Houston got back to its roots of playing suffocating defense and grinding teams down until the final buzzer. They went on to win both the regular-season conference championship and the AAC conference tournament championship.
Houston entered the tournament as a 5-seed, from which most projected them to have an early exit. But after defeating the Big 10 regular-season champion in the Round of 32, the Cougars are still alive.
Surviving and Advancing
Houston’s starting five consisted of Fabian White Jr., Josh Carlton, Jamal Shead, Kyler Edwards, and Taze Moore. Moore led all scorers with 21 points on 56% shooting. Shead and Edwards contributed 18 and 15 points, respectively.
With nearly 12-minutes to play in the first half, the Cougars took a three-point lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
Illinois made runs and tied the game numerous times but could never regain the lead.
The Cougars were plus-18 in extra possessions (Offensive Rebounds/Forced Turnovers/Blocks – Offensive Rebounds Allowed/Team Turnovers = Extra Possessions), a stat that will be critical to Houston’s success next weekend.
Houston will now set their sights on the Arizona/TCU game airing Sunday night on TBS at 8:40 p.m. CT.
The Cougars will face the winner next weekend in the Sweet-16.
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