Red-hot UH takes over first

Cougars stand tall in fi­nal 6 min­utes to seize sole pos­ses­sion of first in AAC

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Jerome Solomon and Joseph Duarte

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.”

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff

Nate Hin­ton and UH are alone in first place af­ter a come-from-be­hind win Sun­day.

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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.

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

UH cen­ter Chris Har­ris Jr. came up big on de­fense, sup­ply­ing two of the Cougars’ sea­son-high nine blocked shots.

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