Even before his team lost a pair of excruciatingly close games -- 63-62 to Marshall on Feb. 1 and 76-71 in overtime at Tulsa on Feb. 5 -- Houston coach James Dickey was already losing sleep.
"You don't sleep much when you play like we're playing," Dickey told the Houston Chronicle prior to the Marshall loss.
With the Tulsa defeat, one that was only pushed into overtime after Houston gave up a late 3-pointer from well beyond the arc, Dickey's squad had lost its fifth consecutive C-USA game and dropped from a 3-1 league contender to a 3-6 league afterthought.
And what pains Dickey the most is his team has had every opportunity to win each game. Twice in the losing stretch they'd fallen in overtime. In the other three losses, the Cougars lost by a combined 10 points.
While tensing up and folding in clutch moments down the stretch is the biggest problem, the one area that actually shows up on a stat sheet is rebounding where the Cougars haven't been very good.
Houston, through Feb. 5, was ranked No. 11 in C-USA in rebounding margin in league games at minus-6.1. The Cougars rebounded as poorly as they have all season in the Tulsa game, losing the rebounding war 53-32, including surrendering 24 offensive rebounds to the Golden Hurricane.
"The biggest thing in the game was the offensive board play by Tulsa," Dickey said. "They did a great job on the boards. We couldn't get a rebound. They really kicked us on the boards."
Unless that changes soon, the Cougars are in for a long rest of the season.
--In the Cougars' five-game losing streak between Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, the team lost twice in overtime (late rallies by Tulsa and Rice were needed just to force the overtime) and lost all five games by a total of 23 points, an average of 4.6 points per loss.
In all five losses in the streak, Houston had a lead in the closing minutes of regulation.
--Houston blocked a season-best nine shots in a Feb. 5 overtime loss at Tulsa. The team's previous season high of eight came Jan. 22 vs. UTEP, the game that started Houston's losing streak.
--In coach James Dickey's estimation, Tulsa scored 43 points against the Cougars on Feb. 5 in which Houston should have been given credit for some assists. "They had 43 points where we helped them," Dickey said. "When I say that, that means that you give up second chances off of turnovers and off of offensive rebounds."
Tulsa had 18 points off turnovers and 25 points after offensive rebounds, of which they had 24 in the game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Houston had played five overtime games this season through Feb. 6 and had a 2-3 record in those games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was proud of our defense and proud of the way our guys competed, but we just didn't rebound the basketball. They really dominated us on the glass." -- Houston coach James Dickey, after a Feb. 5 overtime loss to Tulsa in which the Cougars were outrebounded 53-32.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Tulane, Feb. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: Somebody has to win this one. As of Feb. 5, Tulane had lost seven consecutive C-USA games and Houston had lost five straight. Tulane's successes this season, and there were plenty early on, had been the result of sophomore star G/F Kendall Timmons, who was averaging 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per C-USA game through Feb. 5.
FUTURES MARKET: Senior F Maurice McNeil seemed to be out of coach James Dickey's doghouse and back to being a regular starter for Houston, but the problem in a Feb. 5 overtime loss to Tulsa was he still couldn't manage to stay on the court because of foul trouble. McNeil, who fouled out in the game, played just 23 of the game's 45 minutes. He was an obvious mismatch for the Golden Hurricane while he was on the court. He scored 21 points in those 23 minutes, but he was no help to his team late while riding the pine for the final 2:39 of regulation and all of the overtime.
--Senior PG Zamal Nixon came off the bench for the first time all season in a Feb. 5 loss to Tulsa. He still played 36 minutes and had 12 points and four assists. His benching to open the game, however, left junior G Darian Thibodeaux as the only Cougars player to have started each of the team's first first 22 games. Thibodeaux had 15 points and four assists in 43 minutes of the overtime loss to Tulsa.
--Freshman F Alandise Harris made a career-high 12 free throws and attempted a career-high 20 free throws in a Feb. 1 loss to Marshall. The 20 free-throw attempts were the second most by a C-USA player this season. The 12 made free throws helped Harris atone for a 2-of-8 shooting performance from the field. He had 16 points in the game.
Three days later in an overtime loss to Tulsa, Harris was 4-for-8 from the foul line and had just eight points, but he did grab a team-high 10 rebounds, which was impressive considering the Cougars got outrebounded 53-32 on the night.