On Sunday, February 21th, the American Athletic Conference leading Temple Owls will come to Hofheinz Pavilion to take on the streaking Houston Cougars, who are currently 19-7 and 9-5 in conference. The game begins at 6:00 PM and will be televised on ESPNews.
The Cougars are winners of six of their last seven. After going on a four-game losing streak, they have refocused and earned some impressive wins in this latest stretch. And they impressively did so without leading scorer, Rob Gray Jr., for four of the games. He has since returned, but the offense has become increasingly dynamic as the season draws toward its close, and the Cougars are gaining momentum at the right time. Multiple players are regularly scoring in double digits and they are usually outrebounding their opponents.
But Temple will provide a significant challenge to Houston. Although the Cougars dominated the Owls in Philadelphia earlier in the season, 77-50, this game is looking more and more like an aberration. Temple is currently 16-9, but sit at a comfortable 10-3 in conference, earning them the top stop in the standings. They schedule difficult nonconference games, including a recent loss to Big 5 rival no. 1 Villanova. But they have played exceedingly well in conference, with wins against UConn, Cincinnati, and SMU.
The Owls are coached by Philadelphia legend Fran Dunphy, who replaced even bigger Philadelphia legend, John Chaney, in 2006. They have a storied basketball tradition, and will look to add another chapter this season. And a win against the Cougars will a lot to ensure another NCAA Tournament appearance, of which they have six under Dunphy.
The Owls are led on the court by senior guard, Quenton DeCosey, who is averaging16.4 points per game. He also averages 6.1 rebounds and has 29 steals on the season. Sophomore forward, Obi Enechionyia, is another double-digit scorer, and has 21 blocks this season. Another threat on the court is Jaylen Bond, who is averaging 8.1 rebounds.
In their previous meeting, the Cougars limited all Temple players to single digit scoring performances. The Owls couldn’t get anything going and shot a mere 34.5% and 13% from three. Houston, on the other hand, shot 54.4% and 46.7% from three, and had three double-digit scorers, including 23 from Rob Gray Jr. The Cougars also outrebounded the Owls 41-30.
But Sunday’s game won’t likely look like this, as the squad from Philadelphia has established themselves as, perhaps, the best team in the conference as the season has progressed. And they will be hungry to attain another win that will help their chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and allow them to remain the No.1 seed for the conference tournament, whose winner receives an automatic bid.
But Houston will be hungry, too, and will want to improve their seeding for the conference tournament. And with Rob Gray Jr. in his second game back from injury, coach Kelvin Sampson will hope he will reestablish his offensive dominance and grow more comfortable on defense. And if Damyean Dotson and others rebound as well as they are capable, this game could be a win for the currently fourth seeded Cougars.
Regardless, Houston will look good in this game, as they will don special black jerseys. Hopefully, they can secure the victory so that these sleek tops won’t be perceived as bad luck in the future. Because I want to see them again.