That Feb. 18 upset win over Southern Miss turned out to be a blip in the radar for the Houston Cougars as opposed to a late season momentum surge as the team had hoped for.
The Cougars lost Feb. 22 at Marshall, 66-58. Houston now looks to build its late season momentum for the C-USA tournament with a Feb. 25 rematch with an SMU team that beat up on Houston in Dallas 70-54 on Jan. 18.
The Cougars' Achilles heel continues to be its 3-point defense, but not necessarily against the team's top 3-point shooter. It seems the Cougars are just fine controlling an opponents' top 3-point shooter, but it comes at the expense of letting a secondary shooter catch fire from long range.
Take the Feb. 22 Marshall loss for instance. The Thundering Herd's top 3-point shooter is guard Damier Pitts. Houston's defense held Pitts to 0-for-6 shooting from 3-point range, but then allowed senior forward Dago Pena to come off the bench and connect on four treys and score 14 points.
It was much of the same the last time the Cougars played SMU.
Arguably C-USA's top 3-point shooter forward Robert Nyakundi was held by Houston to just a pair of 3-point shots only to see his Mustangs teammate London Giles hit five treys in the game.
If Houston wants to pick up a win or two to build any sort of momentum before the C-USA Tournament, shutting down Giles on Feb. 25 might be even more important than focus all the defensive pressure on Nyakundi's long range ability.
Gibson emerges for Cougars
--Junior F Leon Gibson scored a season high 17 points and grabbed a season high 11 rebounds, all in 24 minutes off the bench, in a Feb. 22 loss at Marshall. Gibson shot 6-of-9 from the floor and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line. He scored double figure points only once before the Marshall game and hadn't had a double-figure rebounding game in his Houston career. In his previous 12 C-USA games played this season, Gibson scored a total of 28 points (2.3 per game).
--Junior G Jonathon Simmons didn't exactly follow up his Feb. 20 C-USA Player of the Week award in grand fashion. In a Feb. 18 loss at Marshall, Simmons scored 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting, missed both his free throw attempts and had one assist offset by four turnovers.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5. Consecutive games in which Houston had more turnovers than its opponents through Feb. 18.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We told our guys, 'They're going to punch you in the mouth.' But our guys responded. They competed. They battled." -- Houston coach James Dickey after an 73-71 upset of Conference USA co-leader Southern Mississippi on Feb. 18.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Southern Methodist, Feb. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: Senior F Robert Nyakundi leads SMU with a 14.8 scoring average and junior G London Giles is scoring 10.7 points a game. Houston lost at SMU 70-54 on Jan. 18 as Giles scored 16 points to lead the Mustangs. Nyakundi added 15 points for SMU, sophomore F Shawn Williams and freshman G Jalen Jones had 11 points each. Houston got 11 points apiece from freshman G Joseph Young and junior F Kirk Van Slyke.
TRENDING: For the third consecutive game, and just the fifth time in school history, the Houston Cougars trotted out three freshman -- F TaShawn Thomas and Gs Joseph Young and J.J. Thompson -- in its starting lineup for the team's Feb. 22 loss at Marshall. The school had started three freshmen just once prior to this season and has now done it four times this season, including each game since Feb. 11. The trio combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds, but Thompson clearly struggled as he provided just four of those points, didn't grab a rebound and fouled out of the Marshall game in just 23 minutes on the court.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore Alandise Harris is certainly one of Houston's building blocks moving forward. Through games of Feb. 18, he was averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds.
--Junior G Jonathon Simmons scored a career-high 28 points in a 73-71 victory over Southern Mississippi on Feb. 18, marking the 13th time he had led Houston in scoring in 25 games this season. It was also Simmons' seventh 20-point game. Simmons had scored in double figures in seven straight games, averaging 17.3 points to lift his season average to a team-high 14.3 in his first season as a junior college transfer.
--Freshman F TaShawn Thomas had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Southern Miss for his seventh double-double of the season. It also marked his ninth double-digit rebounding game as he had led Houston in that category in 13 of 25 games this season.
--Freshman G Joseph Young had scored in double figures in five games in a row through Feb. 18 after doing so only once in his previous five games. Young averaged 12.8 points during his hot streak.