Brooks hits six 3-point­ers, has 22 points as fans get first taste of $60 mil­lion Fer­titta Cen­ter

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Joseph Duarte STAFF WRITER [email protected] twit­ter.com/joseph_­d­uarte

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.

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

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