Behind impressive performances from Devonata Pollard and Damyean Dotson, the Houston Cougars improved to 21-8 and 11-6 in conference on Sunday. With this victory over the UConn Huskies in Connecticut, Kelvin Sampson’s team has risen to third in the AAC standings among post-season eligible teams.
The Cougars have now won eight of their last ten, but their latest win was a hard fought one. Houston struggled right out of the gate against a UConn team that defeated them in their previous meeting, 69-57. They stumbled to a nine-point deficit with 8:25 left in the first half. They were having trouble getting defensive stops and Pollard had racked up a couple fouls early. Dotson, however, made key shots to keep the game manageable. With a three point shot, he sparked an 8-0 run that ended the first half. This bout of scoring brought Houston within one to end the first half, 32-33.
They sustained this momentum swing with a 9-0 run early in the second half, creating a 7-point lead. After this dominant display of offense, the Cougars cooled off a bit, and the two teams exchanges leads. Pollard excelled in the second half and kept the game close. UConn hung around in closing minutes, but a Dotson three put Houston up by six with 1:08 left. This proved to be insurmountable for the Huskies, who, after some late efforts, came up short, 75-68.
Dotson was the difference. He put up 22 points and added an incredible 14 rebounds. Pollard, too, was significant, with 17 points, 13 of which were in the second half. Danrad Knowles and Ronnie Johnson both contributed 10, as well.
Houston actually got outrebounded, 30-35, which isn’t something that they often do. And considering that they still won the game, this is an impressive feat. But they scored fast break points, shot 51.9%, and held UConn’s leading scorer, Shonn Miller, to nine points. While they did allow Daniel Hamilton to score 20, the Huskies didn’t do enough down the stretch to secure a 21th win.
Beating UConn, who are only two years removed from a National Championship, is meaningful for the Cougars. It’s their most impressive outing since beating SMU earlier in the season. But, if anything, it’s indicative of the kind of program that Kelvin Sampson is building at Houston. In only his second year, with a team that he had to almost entirely rebuild, he has crafted wins against LSU, SMU, and UConn. With one game left on the season, they already have 21 wins. Sampson has raised expectations. And while beating a talented, albeit underperforming, UConn team in Connecticut is impressive, I legitimately believed, if not expected, them to win.
This speaks to the consistency with which this team now displays, only one year removed from a 13 win season. They have really turned the corner. Wins like this will likely become commonplace in the near future. Early in his tenure at Houston, his team is third in the conference, and primed to make noise in the AAC Tournament, whose winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. While the Cougars may not win, they have as good a chance as any. At this point, they can probably beat any conference foe.
They’ll hope to keep these good times alive against Cincinnati on Thursday, in what is the final game of the season. It will take place in Hofheinz Pavilion, and will be the seniors’ last regular season game in Houston uniforms. So, needless to say, the game will be meaningful on multiple levels.