HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – The Cougars love challenges as was evident in their 73-71 home win versus Southern Miss on February 18th. The Golden Eagles are one of two best teams in the C-USA. However, capitalizing on opportunities has eluded the Cougars this season as was evident four days later in the 66-58 loss at Marshall.
The Cougars need consistency, something they’ve lacked all season. That’s a battle the Cougars have fought all season, says Cougar’s Head Basketball Coach, James Dickey.
“That’s been the biggest Achilles Heel for us all year is inconsistency – play good then don’t play as well. Whether you say we don’t handle success very well, or in my mind it’s just a matter of being consistent every day, getting better.”
ONLY THREE GAMES REMAINING
The Cougars are 0-8 on the road, but 11-5 at home which makes it vital for them to win their last two at HofHeinz; SMU Saturday night and Tulane on Wednesday night.
They’ve only won 1 of the last 6. Two of those were played in Hofheinz; the win over Southern Miss which broke a 4-game losing skid, the other, a 79-71 loss to the Rice Owls. Speaking of Rice, the Cougars will finish the season at Tudor Fieldhouse on March 3.
So, obviously winning Saturday night at home against the Ponies to have a chance to finish strong is what Dickey would like to see; especially since his Cougars are 4-9 since January 4th.
The four wins were against good C-USA teams in Tulsa, UTEP, East Carolina, and Southern Miss. But the Cougars have not capitalized.
“We know that we can beat the best teams in this league,” says Dickey. “We also know that if we don’t play we can get beaten by anybody. So, that’s why we got to be ready every day.”
A LOOK INSIDE THE DEN
Houston averages 71.9 points per game which ranks 3rd best in C-USA. However, they allow opponents 72.8 ppg which ranks last in the conference. The Cougars are a 71.6% free throw shooting team which could give them an edge over SMU who shoots 67.5% from the charity stripe.
But will the Cougars be able to take advantage? Dickey would like to see one of his guys step up Saturday night.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s been absent from our team – is a guy that you can really count on getting a certain number of rebounds, certain number of points, someone that’s going to be very consistent defensively.”
“We’ve had a lot of different guys step up and I think that’s one of the things we need to continue to do to evolve as a program. We need somebody who’s a consistent leader to step up and know what he’s going to give you every day in practice and know what he’s going to give you every day in a game.”
The Cougars are led in scoring by 6’6” junior guard Jonathon Simmons who averages 13.8 ppg. He’s also averaging 5.1 rebounds per game. Simmons was the Cougar who filled in the blanks against USM as he led all scorers with 28 points, says Dickey.
“I think in the Southern Miss game, no doubt, Jonathon Simmons was outstanding – probably his best game all year against – maybe the best team in this league.”
Simmons gets much needed help from teammates Harris, Thomas and Young. Sophomore 6’6” forward Alandise Harris averages 11.9 ppg and 6.0 rebounds per game, while freshman 6’8” forward TaShawn Thomas averages 10.7 ppg and a team-leading 7.5 boards per game. He is also tied for 6th in the conference with 1.5 blocked shots per game.
Freshman guard Joseph Young adds 10.4 ppg while freshman 6’0” guard J.J. Thompson leads the Cougars with a season total 38 assists in conference play.
SMU IS 12-16
The Mustangs are 2-8 in their last 10 games. So, they are also struggling, but looking for a season sweep at Houston. The defeated the Cougars 70-54 in their first conference matchup January 18th in Dallas.
Head Coach Matt Doherty’s group snapped a three-game losing streak with a 64-50 win Wednesday night over Tulane at Moody Coliseum. However, they are still dead last in conference play at 3-10, a paltry 3-7 on the road.
“They have not been playing very well,” says Dickey. “They beat Tulane – held Tulane to 50 points. They shot the ball extremely well.”
SMU shot 53% in the first half, but 28% in the second. 6’3” junior guard London Giles led the Ponies against the Greenwave with 17 points.
However, 6’8” senior forward Robert Nyakundi leads the Mustangs in scoring with a 14.6 ppg average. 6’3” junior guard London Giles follows with 10.9. Nyakundi is also their leading rebounder averaging 4.7 per game and 3-point shooter at 42%.
“We’re going to have to guard the three-point line,” says Dickey. “Nyakundi is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. Giles can really shoot the ball also.”
The Mustangs average 59.9 ppg and are ranked 11th in the conference. They are ranked last in rebounding with a 28.6 boards per game average.
Tipoff gets underway Saturday night at 7:00 in Hofheinz Pavilion.