Nothing is coming easily for Houston these days.
Houston finally notched its second Conference USA win of the season on Jan. 21 when it beat visiting East Carolina 82-76. However, the Cougars saw a comfortable 23-point lead with seven minutes get slashed to one point in the final minute before they held on.
The Cougars did snap a four-game losing streak, though, as they improved to 10-9 overall and 2-4 in the conference. The average margin of defeat during the losing streak was 20.3 points.
Houston was dressing just eight scholarship players because of injuries, and only one player, junior forward Kirk Van Slyke, was in the program before James Dickey took over as coach prior to last season. Thus, the Cougars are still trying to fit all the pieces together.
Houston has seven days off before it hosts Texas-El Paso on Jan. 28. The Miners rolled to a 70-50 home victory over the Cougars on Jan. 7.
Normally, coaches don't want a full week off at this point in the season, as they prefer the continuity of a twice-a-week schedule of games. However, Houston could use the extra time in the gym to develop some team chemistry and cohesiveness while trying to build on a victory.
Cougars attempt to fill leadership void
--Houston coach James Dickey is looking for someone to become the leader of his team.
One of Houston's biggest problems is that almost its entire roster is still relatively new to the program. Junior F Kirk Van Slyke is the only Cougars player who was with the program as far back as the 2009-10 season, Tom Penders' last year before being fired and replaced by Dickey.
G Darian Thibodeaux is the lone senior on the roster. He is trying to take on a leadership role along with Van Slyke and junior G Jonathon Simmons, in his first year in the program as a junior college transfer.
"We try to hold everybody accountable," Thibodeaux said.
"Every team needs a leader," Houston freshman G Joseph Young. "A leader helps the team get ready and prepare for the games. You need that one leader to pump everybody up and get everybody ready for the game."
--Houston had a week off between its 82-76 victory over East Carolina on Jan. 21 and its game against Texas-El Paso on Jan. 28. Dickey planned on spending time working on the offense against the press during those extra practice sessions.
The Cougars nearly blew a 23-point second-half lead against East Carolina. The Pirates used full-court pressure to help whittle their deficit to one point before Houston held on for the win.
"We do have a press breaker. We didn't execute it well," Dickey said. "The two things we need to get better on are turnovers and handling the press better."
Houston had 19 turnovers against East Carolina and was averaging 15.1 a game through Jan. 21.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7-1 -- Houston's record in its last eight home games through Jan. 21 after beating East Carolina 82-76 that night. The Cougars, who host Texas-El Paso on Jan. 28, were 8-4 at Hofheinz Pavilion through Jan. 21 but 0-4 on the road and 1-1 on neutral courts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a big sigh of relief because we haven't had a win in a while. To get this win was big for us." -- Houston freshman F TaShawn Thomas, on why he let out a big scream at the end of an 82-76 victory over East Carolina on Jan. 21 that snapped the Cougars' four-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Texas-El Paso, Jan. 28
KEY MATCHUPS: Sophomore G Michael Perez led four UTEP players who were scoring averages in double figures with a 12.1 mark through Jan. 21. He was followed by senior F Gabriel McCulley (11.8), freshman F Julian Washburn (10.5) and sophomore C John Bohannon (10.1). McCulley was also averaging 1.2 steals a game, Washburn was averaging 1.0 steals, and Bohannon was averaging 6.8 rebounds. Houston has lost three straight games to UTEP, including 70-50 on the road on Jan. 7. McCulley led UTEP with 22 points, Washburn added 19 points, and Bohannon had 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Joseph Young was the only Houston player to score in double figures with 14 points. UTEP shot 61 percent and outrebounded Houston 32-19.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F TaShawn Thomas had 17 points and 12 rebounds in an 82-76 victory over East Carolina on Jan. 21 for his fourth double-double of the season. Through Houston's first 19 games, Thomas was averaging 10.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.
--Senior G Darian Thibodeaux suffered a corneal abrasion in his left eye by an East Carolina player early in the Jan. 21 game. However, Thibodeaux eventually returned to the game and scored nine points on three 3-pointers in 18 minutes.
"He showed me that he had heart and that he was going to fight," Houston freshman F TaShawn Thomas said. "It gave the rest of the team encouragement to fight because he could have sat out the rest of the game, but he chose to come back and fight with us."
--Sophomore G Jimmie Jones, a walk-on, played a career-high 21 minutes against East Carolina while Thibodeaux received treatment for his eye injury. Jones had four assists along with the first two points of his career. Jones had played only 25 minutes all season, though 10 of those came in the previous game, a 70-54 loss at Southern Methodist on Jan. 18.
"I thought his defensive awareness tonight was terrific," Houston coach James Dickey said. "He had two peel-back interceptions in the back court. He was so active, he's quick, and we want him to utilize that."
--Sophomore F Alandise Harris scored at least 18 points three times in a four-game stretch from Jan. 11-21. He averaged 16.0 points a game in that span to raise his season average to 13.8.