When the Houston Cougars played at Louisville on January 19 they got blitzed. The Cardinals led the game 57-28 at halftime and wound up winning the game by 39 points. On Wednesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion, the Cougars had the chance to return the favor. They didn’t, losing 77-62,
Almost seven minutes in, the game was tied at 11, but Louisville broke off a 15-1 run, and led by as many as 21 on the way to a 45-26 halftime lead. The Cardinals shot close to 70 percent from the field, and rebounded four of their seven misses. Houston shot 43.5 percent in the half, but had more turnovers (9) than rebounds (7).
“They’re the best in the country at converting turnovers into points,” Houston head coach James Dickey said. “They had 24 points (18 in the first half) off turnovers, and eight points off rebounds. You cannot contribute to a quality team, and they’re certainly championship caliber. “
It didn’t help that Houston’s leading scorer and rebounder TaShawn Thomas was limited to eight minutes in the half because of foul trouble. He was limited to 4 points, and didn’t grab a rebound.
“I hate getting two fouls early in the first half, but I try to stay engaged by talking to (my teammates) on the bench,” Thomas said. “I will yell on and off the sideline, talking on defense and just try to cheer so that it makes it seem like I am still in the game and try to stay engaged.”
On Guy V. Lewis night, playing in front of the largest Hofheinz Pavilion crowd (7,247) since John Calipari brought top ranked Memphis and Derek Rose to town January 30, 2008, the Cougars made things interesting.
“The crowd helped us out a lot,” Thomas said. “I feel like if the crowd wasn’t there then we wouldn’t have been able to stay in it like we were because the crowd stayed in it the whole game with us.”
Thomas was able to play 17 solid minutes in the second half scoring 10 points while adding eight rebounds, and Houston got the Louisville lead down to nine, but after a Tione Womack bucket did it for a second time, Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino called a timeout. After a Chris Jones three-pointer, a Houston turnover, and another Jones basket the lead was back to 14 in less than 30 seconds, and the Cougars never got the lead down to single digits again.
“When we went to Louisville, they punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond, at all,” Thomas said. “Here, after they kept punching us we responded and kept playing hard. I don’t feel like we gave up this game at all, we kept fighting until the end.”
Thomas and Jherrod Stiggers led Houston with 14 points. Russ Smith’s 17 points was a game-high. Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell added 15 for Louisville. They are now 19-4 on the season, 8-2 in conference play.
“I’m not happy with the loss, but I’m so proud of the preparation, Dickey said. They competed hard, and they did a great job the last two days. I’m not happy with where we’re at with our record.”
After starting 2-0 in American Athletic Conference play, Houston has lost seven of eight, and the for the first time all season, the Cougars overall record is below .500 at 11-12. On Sunday, Houston is back at Hofheinz where it will host Temple.
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