His team's propensity to play close games may not be easy on coach James Dickey's heart. However, a series of tight non-conference games should have Houston ready for its Conference USA opener Jan. 4 when it hosts Tulsa.
Seven of Houston's 13 non-conference games were decided by five points or less. Though the Cougars went just 2-5 in those games, they carry an 8-5 record into C-USA play.
"We play a lot of people close," Dickey said. "Part of that is not a compliment either. The other part is disappointing because we've had some chances. I can think of three games at home that very easily we could have won and we just played close."
Houston could easily be 11-2 as it lost three consecutive home games against Oakland, Texas Christian and Louisiana State by a combined four points in November.
"I really don't enjoy all the dramatic endings, to be honest," Houston senior guard Darian Thibodeaux said. "But it looks that way."
Houston can take heart in the fact it has won its last two games decided by five points or less, beating Texas-San Antonio 77-75 on Dec. 20 and North Carolina A&T 71-67 on Dec. 28.
--A sign of how much progress Houston made during the non-conference portion of its schedule came on Dec. 30 when it rolled to a 94-71 victory over Texas State at home. Twenty-four days earlier, Houston lost to Texas State 81-78 on the road.
Houston pounded Texas State inside as it held a whopping 52-25 advantage in rebounding, scored 27 second-chance points and had 40 points in the paint.
"We played with a lot more energy, intensity and toughness," Houston coach James Dickey said. "That really helped us."
--Houston will take a four-game winning streak into its Conference USA opener against Tulsa on Jan. 4. The Cougars beat Texas-San Antonio, Rogers State, North Carolina A&T and Texas State in succession to finish non-conference play.
"It builds up our confidence," freshman forward TaShawn Thomas said. "No one wants to go into conference play off a recent loss."
BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- Career-high points for freshman guard Joseph Young in the win over Texas State on Dec. 30 as he made 9 of 12 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I had to come out play defense and hit shots. It seems like if I'm playing good defense then the shots drop." -- Houston G Joseph Young.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--Tulsa, Jan. 4
KEY MATCHUPS: Houston split its two games with Tulsa last season, winning 64-57 at home and losing 76-71 in overtime on the road. In the game at Houston, Darian Thibodeaux had 11 points for the Cougars and Alandise Harris added 10. Steven Idlet had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Tulsa before fouling out. Neither team shot well with Houston at 38 percent and the Golden Hurricane connecting on 36 percent. In the rematch at Tulsa, Thibodeaux had 15 points for the Cougars while Scotty Haralson had 22 points for the Golden Hurricane, including six 3-pointers, and Idlet added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Houston held Tulsa to 37 percent shooting but was outrebounded 43-29.
--at Texas-El Paso, Jan. 7
KEY MATCHUPS: Houston lost twice to UTEP last season, 57-52 at home and 76-64 on the road. In the first game, Kirk Van Slyke scored 12 points for Houston, which help UTEP to 36-percent shooting but was outrebounded 40-28. In the rematch at El Paso, Harris had 18 points for the Cougars, who had 17 turnovers, while the graduated Randy Culpepper scored 33 points for the Miners.
FUTURES MARKET: Coach James Dickey is proving to be a master recruiter, especially when it comes to keeping Houston-area talent at home. The Cougars signed a potentially dominant big man in 6-foot-10 forward Danard "Chicken" Knowles from Homeschool Christian Youth in Houston. The 190-pound Knowles will need to put on weight to be an effective Division I player, but he has plenty of raw ability as evidence by being ranked as the 56th-best player in the nation by ESPNU.
--Freshman G Joseph Young came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points in 29 minutes in Houston's 94-71 victory over Texas State on Dec. 30. His previous best was 22 against Rogers State on Dec. 21. Young's three-point field with 36 seconds left turned a two-point deficit into a one-point lead as the Cougars rallied for a 71-67 victory over North Carolina A&T on Dec. 28. Young had 12 points, four rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots in that game.
--Freshman F TaShawn Thomas had his third double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds against Rogers State.
--Senior G Darren Thibodeaux started his 43rd straight game and scored 11 points against Texas State.