On Wednesday, February 24th, the Houston Cougars travel to Orlando, Florida to take on the UCF Knights. The game starts 6:00 PM and will be televised on ESPNU.
The Cougars are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to conference leading Temple, in which they led by as much as 10 in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, the Owls asserted their way back into the game and won by three. This dropped the Cougars to 19-8 and 9-6 in conference, and down to fifth in the American among post-season eligible teams.
UCF is 11-14 on the season, and 5-9 in conference. They have struggled mightily as of late, losing eight of their last nine, including an 82-58 loss to the Cougars on February 13th. In the American, the Knights have defeated only East Carolina, USF, and Tulane. All of these teams sit below them in conference standings, occupying the lowest rungs possible.
The Cougars look to be well suited to complete the regular season series sweep against UCF. But they could, perhaps, overlook the team from Orlando, because two difficult games against UConn and Cincinnati follow. The Knights also have height that could prove difficult for them to contain, as Houston often struggles against bigs with a formidable post presence. UCF has center, Tacko Fall, who stands at an immense 7’6, and has 54 blocks on the season. Their other center, Justin McBride, is 6’10, 325 points, and averages 7.6 points a game. And their leading scorer, A.J. Davis is a respectable 6’9. If the Cougars aren’t merely looking ahead to their final two games of the season, it could be these big men who put a blemish on their record.
But they are playing good basketball at this point in the season. While they lost to Temple, they did play well. And leading scorer, Rob Gray Jr., will be play his third game back from injury, and has reemerged as the most potent offensive threat. He scored 20 against Temple, and will likely look to repeat this feat against UCF, or perhaps transcend it.
Devonta Pollard, too, will look to play Kelvin Sampson approved basketball. This will be this third to last regular season game for the Cougars after a whirlwind college career that included stops at the University of Alabama and East Mississippi Community College. He has been the backbone of the team in his two years in Houston, and will likely impress in last trip to Orlando before the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
A win against UCF will help the Cougars’ seeding in this event, of which winning is Houston’s only realistic way of attaining a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The players, each of whom has played a role in this exciting turnaround season, will know this, and will likely respond with strong play to close out the season. And with so few games left, fans should savor every moment we have left with Sampson’s first real team for the University of Houston, with his recruits and transfers. They have made us all proud this season, which has already exceeded expectations.