Houston is playing its best basketball of the season going into the Conference USA Tournament.
Houston won its final three regular-season games to push its record above .500 and gain the No. 9 seed in the C-USA tourney. It is the Cougars' second-longest winning streak since winning five in a row from Dec. 20-Jan. 4.
Houston finished the regular season with a 76-75 road victory at city rival Rice after downing Southern Methodist 62-59 and ripping Tulane 82-53 at home.
"Our whole theme is playing the whole 40 minutes," Houston coach James Dickey said.
A team with only one senior and three juniors seems to be coming of age and its first-round matchup in the conference tournament against No. 8 seed Texas-El Paso (14-16) in the first round on March 7 at Memphis could be interesting.
Houston, though, would face a huge challenge if it gets by UTEP. It is in the same bracket with C-USA regular-season champion Memphis (23-8) and would face the Tigers on their home court in the quarterfinals on March 8.
Houston would love to at least beat UTEP and hopefully gain the attention of either the CBI or CIT selection committee. While those tournaments may not be prestigious, a berth in either would give Houston's young players a chance for more game experience and practice time with an eye toward next season.
Cougars took advantage of techs in win over Rice
--Senior G Darren Thibodeaux brought some calmness to a game the featured some wild final seconds as he sank two technical foul shots with 2.1 seconds left to give Houston a 76-75 victory at Rice on March 3 in the regular-season finale.
Houston was trailing 75-73 when junior G Jonathon Simmons was fouled while driving to hoop with 5.2 seconds left. He missed the first of two free throw attempts but made the second to cut Rice's lead to one point.
Rice's Connor Frizzelle then slipped as he caught the inbounds pass and was granted a timeout before he fell to the floor. However, the Owls were out of timeouts and were assessed a technical foul, setting up Thibodeaux to be the hero.
--Thibodeaux became the fifth Houston player to score at least 20 points in a game when he had a career-high 21 in the win at Rice. The others who have scored 20 are Simmons, freshman G Joseph Young, sophomore F Alandise Harris and junior F Kirk Van Slyke.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8. Regular-season games this season in which junior G Jonathon Simmons scored 20 or more points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was just a mindset overall. Just a will to stop somebody from scoring. He still played a good game but just didn't score," -- Thibodeaux on holding Tulane's leading scorer, G Ricky Tarrant, without a point in an 82-53 rout of the Green Wave on Feb. 29. Tarrant finished the regular season averaging 15.2 points a game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Texas El Paso in Conference USA Tournament first round at Memphis, March 7
KEY MATCHUPS: Freshman F Julian Washburn leads UTEP with an 11.5 scoring average and is one of four Miners averaging double figures along with sophomore C John Bohannon (11.2), senior F Gabriel McCulley (11.2) and sophomore G Michael Perez (11.0). The teams split their regular-season meetings with UTEP winning at home 70-50 on Jan. 7 and Houston winning on its home floor 81-76 on Jan. 28. McCulley led the win over UTEP with 22 points, Washburn added 19 points and John Bohannon had a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Houston was led by freshman G Joseph Young's 14 points. UTEP shot 61 percent from the field, outrebounded Houston 32-19 and forced the Cougars into 16 turnovers.
At Houston, junior G Jonathon Simmons led the Cougars with 25 points, freshman F TaShawn Thomas had a double-double with 16points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, sophomore F Alandise Harris also had a double-double with15 points and 12 rebounds and freshman G J.J. Thompson chipped in with 10 points. UTEP got another double-double from Bohannon, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Washburn scored 16 points, Perez added 12 points and McCulley had 11 points before fouling out.
FUTURES MARKET: Houston has received a commitment from C Valentine Izundu, a senior at Lamar Consolidated High School in Katy, Texas. The 6-foot-10 Izundu is an outstanding shot blocker but needs to get stronger in order to become a more consistent scorer and rebounder.
--G Darian Thibodeaux, Houston's lone senior, had a memorable regular-season finale as he scored a career-high 21 points in a 76-75 victory at Rice on March 3. His previous best was 17 points last season against Southern Methodist. Thibodeaux also set a career high with seven assists on Feb. 29 in an 82-53 blowout of Tulane.
--Junior F Jonathan Simmons showed off his passing ability in the win over Rice as he had a career-high eight assists. A junior college transfer, Simmons led Houston in scoring with a 14.9 average in the regular season. After being held a season-low two points in a loss at Marshall on Feb. 22, Simmons scored in double figures in each of the last three regular-season games, averaging 15.7 points.