Dickey demands improved effort from Cougars

Unfortunately, the Cougars don't catch a break anytime soon, as they face tough road games at league title hopefuls UTEP (Feb. 19) and Memphis (Feb. 22).

GETTING INSIDE

Unfortunately for the Cougars, Tulane can't be on the schedule every night.

The Cougars had hoped a Feb. 12 win over the Green Wave would have solved the recent woes that led to an excruciating five-game losing streak from Jan. 22 through Feb. 5. That skid took the confident Cougars well out of the Conference USA regular-season title conversation.

Now, after a blowout home loss to SMU on Feb. 16, Houston is just hoping to avoid plummeting any further down the C-USA rankings.

Unfortunately, the Cougars don't catch a break anytime soon, as they face tough road games at league title hopefuls UTEP (Feb. 19) and Memphis (Feb. 22).

Needless to say, the frustrations and concerns in Houston are mounting.

"We would probably come back and practice tonight if we could, but that is against the rules," coach James Dickey said after the SMU loss. "We need to get the right mentality and focus this week. We need to go play hard and compete. UTEP is a very good team, and we'll need to bring that hard attitude with us."

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The results, Houston coach James Dickey insists, aren't the problem. The process is what it's all about. And right now, especially after a Feb. 16 home loss to SMU that he said was "an insult to all of the great players that have played here and all the great fans that have come through Hofheinz Pavilion," the Cougars' process doesn't seem to include anyone who wants to play defense.

If the team needs a crash course on defense, it'll get it Feb. 19 when the Cougars play C-USA leading UTEP, one of the nation's top defensive teams under first-year head coach Tim Floyd.

"There are two things a player can do well every game -- play hard and play hard defense," Dickey said. "Some days you're not going to shoot the ball well or handle it well. I'm a firm believer that, in every game, you play, you can give that effort in those aspects of the game."

NOTES, QUOTES

--SMU never trailed Feb. 16 on Houston's home floor, extending its lead to as many as 18 points in a 65-51 victory. The SMU win exposed the Cougars' lack of interior defenders, and the Mustangs scored 38 of their 65 points in the paint. That interior scoring for SMU (F Papa Dia had 27 points) led to an efficient 56.8 percent shooting clip from the floor, including a 62.5 percent success rate in the first half.

--Houston set a C-USA season low with one free throw attempt in a Feb. 16 loss to SMU. Junior G Darian Thibodeaux had the honor of making his team's only attempt. Instead of barking at the referees about the lack of visits to the charity stripe, Houston coach James Dickey barked at his players.

"We shot one free throw tonight," Dickey said after the game. "We weren't aggressive and didn't attack. We talked about attacking and making the SMU players have to guard us, but we settled for jump shots too often."

--Houston shot 54.8 percent from the field and scored 41 points in the first half of its Feb. 12 win over Tulane. It was the team's second-highest first-half point total in a game this season. Houston scored 42 points in the first half of a Nov. 20 win over Northwestern Oklahoma State.

--While the Cougars were happy enough to get the win Feb. 12 against Tulane, Houston coach James Dickey has to start feeling concerned about the team's perimeter defense. After not allowing any team to hit more than eight 3-pointers in the first 21 games of the season, Houston's last two opponents hit 24 3-pointers on the Cougars. Tulsa hit 10 treys against Houston in a Feb. 5 Cougars loss, and Tulane sank 14 treys in the Feb. 12 Cougars win.

--Despite Tulane holding a conference-high nine-game losing streak through Feb. 13 and sitting alone at the bottom of the C-USA standings, more Houston fans came out to the Feb. 12 game against the Green Wave than to any other home game of the season.

The 5,144 who watched the Cougars beat Tulane topped the previous high of 4,513 fans who came out to Hofheinz Pavilion on Jan. 22 to watch C-USA's first-place team, UTEP.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Houston's nine steals in the Feb. 12 win over Tulane were the most the Cougars have had in a C-USA game this season and most the team had in any game since picking up 11 steals in a win over Nevada on Dec. 6.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's important to catch a case of amnesia this week. We need to forget our past and focus on our future." -- Houston senior G Adam Brown, in the Houston Chronicle, before his team snapped a five-game losing streak with a Feb. 12 win over Tulane.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

--at UTEP, Feb. 19

KEY MATCHUPS: Houston probably did everything it was supposed to do to beat the Miners on Jan. 22, but it let the game slip away in the closing minutes. Houston was solid on defense, holding the Miners to 35.7 percent shooting from the floor but got beat up in every way but scoring by UTEP senior PG Julyan Stone, who added to a defensive gem of a game by contributing 14 rebounds, six assists and one turnover.

FUTURES MARKET: Houston snapped a five-game losing streak thanks in large part to some key play from its bench -- a bench the Cougars still need to find more consistency from. "Our guys off the bench really came in and contributed," coach James Dickey said. "I was really impressed with Kendrick's defense and rebounding more than his scoring. Nick came in and did some nice things. He came up with some steals, scored some points and played good defense." F Kendrick Washington, back on the floor after a brief stint in Dickey's doghouse, had 10 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench, while sophomore G Nick Haywood did his damage with tight defense and also scored six points in 20 minutes.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Darian Thibodeaux had 12 points and hit three 3-pointers in a Feb. 16 loss to SMU. He showed no ill effects from an elbow infection he obtained last week after suffering a deep scratch in a practice earlier this month. The infection left him as a game-time decision in the Feb. 12 win over Tulane, but he played and hadn't missed practice since.

--Senior G Zamal Nixon went 11-for-11 from the free-throw line in a Feb. 12 win over Tulane. As good a showing as that was from the foul line, it wasn't even his best of the past month. Nixon's 12-of-12 effort in a Jan. 19 loss to Tulsa was tied for the most free throws made in a C-USA game this season without a miss (UTEP's Randy Culpepper matched the feat Jan. 5, also against Tulsa).

Nixon's 92.3 percent free-throw shooting for the season was tops in the league through Feb. 12.


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