On Thursday, March 3rd, the Houston Cougars take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in what will be their final game of the regular season. It begins at 8:00 PM and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Most importantly, though, senior night will celebrated at Hofheinz, honoring Devonta Pollard, L.J. Rose, Eric Weary Jr., and LeRon Barnes. It will be a special game, and the last at home for these four men who have each meant so much to the program in so many different ways.
The Cougars have been on a hot streak as of late, winning eight of their last ten, including a hard-fought victory over UConn on Sunday. Devonta Pollard and Daymean Dotson have contributed to this streak tremendously. Both have become the most dependable scorers and rebounders, and kept the squad competitive when their teammates struggled. They are averaging 14 and 13.9 points per game, respectively, and grabbing 5.7 and 6.9 rebounds a piece. While Rob Gray Jr, remains the leading scorer, he is still trying to find a consistent rhythm after missing four games with an ankle injury earlier in the season.
Houston’s recent run has lifted their record to 21-8 and 11-6 in conference. They are third in the American among post-season eligible teams. Cincinnati’s record, however, is even better, at 21-8 and 11-5 in conference, which puts them at second in the standings. But so little separates the top teams that the Cougars can still finish anywhere from second to sixth in the conference.
So, Thursday’s game will be important for AAC Tournament seeding. While the Cougars have already secured a first round bye, a higher seed will likely lead to a more desirable match-up. And winning it all will be their only realistic chance of attaining a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
But before Houston can even think about it, they must face a talented Bearcats team that have already defeated them handily, 70-59. So getting a win won’t be an easy task. Cincinnati is a deep team with a lot of guy who can contribute. They have dynamic players that can play both sides of the court, like Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis. The Bearcats don’t have one dominant player, but rather, many who can admirably fill a box score in a given night. So the Cougars will have to account for this. The usual suspects must contribute, as well as others.
The Bearcats, however, are struggling with a few injuries. Farad Cobb and Shaq Thomas are both questionable to play. Cobb scored 14 against Houston in their previous meeting, so his absence may be felt by the visiting team.
But the stakes are high for Cincinnati, who is considered to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. They could secure an at large bid if they finish the season strong, which would include a win over Houston. They still have another game to play after Thursday, though, against SMU. The Cougars, on the other hand, end their season early, which will allow them to leave everything they have on the court. They can focus all of their energy on securing the victory, honoring the seniors, and potentially catching their opponents looking ahead to SMU.
Thursday will mark the final time this class of seniors will get to play at Hofheinz. It will likely be the last chance fans will get to see these four men in red and white. Each of them followed a different path to Houston, some more circuitous than others. LeRon Barnes was the only player to begin his career as a Cougar. But each eventually found his way to the team, and each has meant a great deal to the culture change Kelvin Sampson has initiated. Coach will be sad to see these players go, but will need them to contribute one more time in the regular season, on Thursday.