With as much scoring punch as Houston possesses, it's easy to write off the Cougars' 78-71 home loss to Central Florida on Wednesday night as an off night. And it's likely that UCF caught the Cougars looking ahead to their Saturday game at Memphis on national television.
Houston shot poorly -- had they not hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer they would have shot below 25 percent for the first time since 1954 -- and was badly outrebounded on the boards, 45-31.
That said, the Cougars did some good things that will serve them well against a 13-5 Memphis team that is coming off its first Conference USA loss in 65 games, a 72-67 defeat to UTEP on Wednesday night. For one thing, they created 24 turnovers, including 15 steals, adding to their CUSA lead in both categories. They also got to the foul line 42 times (making 32, for 76.2 percent). If the Cougars are struggling from the outside, it's nice to know they can go inside for points, even if they are from the foul line.
Look for an up-tempo game Saturday, with both teams adept at scoring in transition. Memphis will want to harass Aubrey Coleman (25 points per game) but that's why it's imperative for Kelvin Lewis, who's been battling an illness of late, Desmond Wade and Adam Brown (a combined 8-for-37 from the floor vs. UCF) to step up and knock down shots.
CENTRAL FLORIDA 78, HOUSTON 71: Senior guard Aubrey Coleman scored 30 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome a horrid shooting performance by the Cougars (10-8, 3-2) as they shot a season-low 25.4 percent from the field and lost on their home court to UCF (10-8, 2-2). The loss broke the Cougars' four-game winning streak over the Knights.
Houston missed 17 of its first 20 shots as UCF jumped out to a 28-10 lead in the game's first 16 minutes. The Cougars had as many turnovers as field goals (seven) in the first half.
Coleman, the nation's leading scorer, struggled from the floor like his teammates, making just seven of 18 field-goal attempts. However, he drilled 16 of 18 foul shots as the Cougars tried to rally.
The Cougars got within 45-38 with 12:20 to play but, following a UCF timeout, the Knights went on an 11-2 run over the next three-plus minutes to take control. The closest Houston got was at the buzzer when junior guard Adam Brown hit a 3-pointer. If not for Brown's trey, Houston would have shot below 25 percent for the first time since a win against Texas A&M on Feb. 24, 1954.
Houston got 14 points from senior guard Kelvin Lewis and 10 points and nine rebounds from junior forward Maurice McNeil. Coleman also grabbed nine rebounds.
Marcus Jordan hit all nine of his shots from the floor in scoring 23 points to lead a balanced UCF attack that saw four players score in double digits.
--Following a players-only meeting, the Cougars beat up on a UTEP team that has C-USA title hopes of its own.
"They need to have their own meetings, take some ownership," Houston coach Tom Penders said in the Houston Chronicle. "When you do that, I think it makes you more accountable."
"We put it in ourselves to take our own responsibility, whether it was hitting free throws late in games to close it out or making plays," guard Aubrey Coleman said in the Houston Chronicle, talking about the UTEP game. "That's what we hadn't done -- close out a game."
--Through Jan. 14, Houston committed fewer turnovers per game (9.1) than any team in the nation and led the nation in turnover margin (plus-9.4). The second closest team in turnover margin was Missouri at plus-7.2.
--While opponents have had a field day shooting on the Cougars this year (Houston allows a league-high 46.9 field goal percentage), East Carolina shot just 31.7 percent (19 of 60) from the field against Houston on Jan. 16.
ON THE SPOT: Junior F Marcus McNeil didn't start against UCF for disciplinary reasons after missing a class the day before the game. He ended up playing 30 minutes and scoring 10 points with nine rebounds, but he was ice cold from the floor, making just one of six field-goal attempts. The Cougars need him to stay focused on and off the court and continue to emerge as an inside presence who gives the guard-oriented team crucial balance to its attack. Look no further than the UCF loss to see what can happen if Houston gets out of balance. Aubrey Coleman, the nation's leading scorer, poured in 30 points, but he was a one-man show for the most part. Houston also was dominated on the boards, getting outrebounded 45-31.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I haven't met a win I don't like." -- Houston coach Tom Penders, in the Daily Reflector, after his team's 74-55 win over East Carolina.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The season has gone well for the Cougars, but many are reluctant to heap too much praise on a team that has shown to be all offense and no defense. But in recent games -- wins over UTEP and East Carolina -- Houston looked the part of a complete team and could start gaining respect with tough games ahead.
Tulsa 86, Houston 80
Houston 75, UTEP 65
Houston 74, East Carolina 55
Central Florida 78, Houston 71
at Memphis, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Marshall, Saturday, Jan. 30
at UTEP, Wednesday, Feb. 3
vs. Southern Miss, Saturday, Feb. 6
IN FOCUS: Something has to give when Houston plays at Memphis on Saturday. Entering the week, the Cougars led C-USA in scoring with 83.4 points per game, while the Tigers were holding opponents to a league-low 59.5 points per game. The difference is Memphis scores and defends, leading to a CUSA-best scoring margin (plus-16.4). Houston, meanwhile, was last in the league in scoring defense, allowing 76.5 points per game.
--Senior G Aubrey Coleman was the Conference USA Player of the Week after producing back-to-back 20-point games in wins over UTEP and East Carolina. In the game against the Miners, Coleman became the 43rd player in school history to score 1,000 points during his career, accomplishing the feat in just 47 games.
--Sophomore PG Desmond Wade came into the UCF game shooting 46.2 percent from the floor, but he made just two of 10 field-goal attempts in the 78-71 loss. He has scored just 26 points the past four games (6.5 ppg). The UCF game was the first all season in which Wade didn't have more assists than turnovers (3-3).
--Junior F Maurice McNeil has led the team in rebounds, or tied for the lead, in six consecutive games.