A WIN FROM START TO FINISH.
Brooks hits six 3-pointers, has 22 points as fans get first taste of $60 million Fertitta Center
As he made the short walk Saturday through the corridor connecting the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility to the Fertitta Center, Kelvin Sampson began to think back to where it all started.
Back in April 2014, just hired as the University of Houston’s men’s basketball coach, Sampson walked into his first team meeting. Only five players were in the room, those who chose to stay with the program after others elected to transfer. Facilities had been neglected for decades. Fan support was waning after years of mediocre results.
“There were so many things that had to be done,” Sampson said.
One of the final pieces of the puzzle came Saturday night. Behind 22 points and nine rebounds from Armoni Brooks, the Cougars opened the Fertitta Center with a 65-61 victory over No. 18 Oregon.
“Now we can play big-time basketball,” Sampson said.
After building as much as a 20point first-half lead, the Cougars, plagued by turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch, held their collective breathe before sealing the narrow win before a deafening sellout crowd of 7,035.
UH (6-0) extended its home winning streak to 20 games, tied for the nation’s second-longest active streak.
Brooks had 22 points, which included six 3s — many from well beyond NBA-range — and nine rebounds. Freshman Nate Hinton had 14 points, and Corey Davis Jr. added 12 points.
Brooks set the tone early, draining a couple of 3s in the opening minutes as the Cougars took a lead they would never relinquish in sending Oregon to its second loss in a week to a Houston school. The Ducks (4-3) lost 89-84 to Texas Southern on Monday.
“When I made the first couple of 3s my teammates were just telling me to shoot it,” Brooks said.
Bol Bol, the Ducks’ 7-2 freshman center and son of the late NBA big man Manute Bol, finished with a game-high 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Forty-eight years to the day Hofheinz Pavilion opened on the same piece of property at the corner of Holman Street and Cullen Boulevard, the Cougars ushered in a new era.
Fans lined up hours before the game for a first-glimpse of the $60 million Fertitta Center. Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire businessman, UH board of regent chairman and Rockets owner, emerged from the tunnel before the game, dribbled the ball and made a behind-the-back pass at midcourt.
“This is a special, special night,” said Fertitta, who spearheaded the renovation with a $20 million gift that was the largest individual donation ever to the athletic department. “I have the memories of Hofheinz Pavilion as a kid watching basketball games here and it was a great arena back then. Now to be here 40 years later and to be such a big part of this is a special.”
It was the support of Fertitta and UH president Renu Khator that sold Sampson on the vision that UH could someday win. The Cougars snapped a nearly decade-long drought last season by making the NCAA Tournament.
“Two things fell our way,” Sampson said. “One we have a president who is very pro-athletics. That doesn’t always happen. We have a president that supports athletics. She’s very visible. Our kids know who she is. The second thing is Uncle Tilman. When you have a guy like Tilman Fertitta who loves your university.”
A week into the job, Sampson met Fertitta at a downtown restaurant.
“What’s your vision?” Fertitta asked.
“I told him I think we can win Tilman, but you’ve got to help us,” Sampson said. “We have to have a place when a kid gets off that plane and we go to the airport to pick him up and bring him on this campus, we’ve got to shock him.”
Midway through the second half Saturday, Oregon went on a 10-0 run to close the gap to 46-37.
UH made just one field goal over the final eight minutes, 12 seconds. After the Cougars missed three free throws down the stretch, Bol delivered a dunk that pulled Oregon within 63-61 with 10 seconds.
Brooks sealed the game with a pair of free throws. UH celebrated at midcourt. The crowd stood and cheered its approval.
“That’s exactly (the type of noise) this building was built for,” UH athletic director Chris Pezman said.
University of Houston guard Armoni Brooks celebrates as he runs off the floor after leading the Cougars with 22 points in a 65-61 win over No. 18 Oregon on Saturday night.