Red-hot UH takes over first
Cougars stand tall in final 6 minutes to seize sole possession of first in AAC
The 12th-ranked Cougars hold defending AAC champion Cincinnati scoreless over the last six minutes of the game to clinch a 63-58 win and sole possession of first place in the conference.
The Houston Cougars have been taking and passing tests all season.
This one was different. With six minutes left, the 12thranked Cougars found themselves trailing No. 25 Cincinnati, the defending American Athletic Conference champion and a team on an eight-game winning streak.
The Cougars had led most of the way as the expected low-scoring battle between the conference’s top two scoring defenses was indeed a physical grind. The question was which defense could maintain down the stretch?
Much to the delight of a roaring, sellout crowd at the Fertitta Center, UH’s defense answered the challenge, holding Cincinnati scoreless over the final 6:11 of the game, forcing 10 missed shots, two of which were blocked, en route to a 65-58 victory Sunday.
Meanwhile DeJon Jarreau came to life, scoring 14 of his 16 points — including 11 in a row — during the last eight minutes as the Cougars extended the nation’s longest active home winning streak to 32 games.
Houston took over sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference in a matchup that marked the first time two ranked teams played in Houston since third-ranked UH beat No. 11 Arkansas 64-61 on Feb. 26, 1984, at Hofheinz Pavilion.
UH (23-1, 10-1) has won eight in a row since suffering its only loss of the season Jan. 9 at Temple. The Cougars were predicted as a No. 3 seed in Saturday’s early bracket reveal by the NCAA selection committee and is likely to move into the top 10 in both national polls Monday for the first time since the end of the 1984 season.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was impressed with Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars coming in and even more so afterward.
“They’re the best team we’ve played,” Cronin said. “They put pressure on you for 40 minutes, and they can win in all three ways.
“They can beat you with offense, they can beat you with defense, and they can beat you with rebounding. And they’re a deep team.”
That depth made a difference Sunday, as Houston’s reserves outscored Cincinnati’s bench 3313, with Jarreau outscoring the Bearcats with his season-high.
Jarreau picked up the scoring slack for starters Fabian White Jr., Armoni Brooks and Breaon Brady, who combined for only six points, with each making a single field goal. Brooks did contribute a game-high 12 rebounds.
The sophomore, who sat out last season after transferring from Massachusetts, also contributed eight rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot in 23 energetic minutes.
Jarron Cumberland had a game-high 27 points for Cincinnati (20-4, 9-2), but he went scoreless the final six minutes as UH made a switch on defense by putting 6-5 freshman Nate Hinton on him. Cumberland missed six shots the rest of the way.
The Bearcats struggled to make shots all afternoon against the relentless Cougars, who contested jump shooters and challenged all drivers at the rim in posting a season-high nine blocked shots. Brison Gresham, who leads the Cougars with 37 blocks this season, swatted away four Bearcat attempts, and Chris Harris Jr. added two.
“When those two guys are on the rim, they’re excellent rim protectors,” Sampson said. “That’s their job.”
“Defense is a big part of our DNA.”
DNA stood for “Does Not Allow” points on Sunday.
Cincinnati made just 22 of 66 field goals overall and shot just 9of-26 in the second half. Its biggest lead of the game was the onepoint edge it took when Cumberland drained a 27-footer with just over six minutes left.
That would be it for the Bearcats, who not only missed 10 straight shots from the floor, but also failed to convert the front end of two one-and-one free throws.
Jarreau double-clutched his way to a basket to put UH back on top 59-58 at the six-minute mark, and though that would have been enough, he added more as he closed the game by scoring 10 of UH’s final 11 points.
“I just took what they gave me,” Jarreau said. “They were on our shooters, so that kind of gave me a lane to go make plays.”
Despite his performance on the offensive end, Jarreau applauded the Cougars’ defensive intensity.
“That’s what coach preaches,” Jarreau said. “Every day at practice we defend and rebound. We go at it. We compete.
“We just try our best to carry it over to the game because that’s our culture. If you ain’t buying into our culture, you ain’t playing. You have to (play good defense) to be on the court.”
Nate Hinton and UH are alone in first place after a come-from-behind win Sunday.
UH guard DeJon Jarreau (13) proved a little too much for Keith Williams and Cincinnati during Sunday’s showdown, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final eight minutes of the Cougars’ 65-58 victory at the Fertitta Center.
The Houston bench was fired up while watching the 12th-ranked Cougars hold No. 25 Cincinnati scoreless over the final 6 minutes, 11 seconds of Sunday’s game.
UH center Chris Harris Jr. came up big on defense, supplying two of the Cougars’ season-high nine blocked shots.