Fresh off their first trip to the Final Four in 37 years, the Houston Cougars (2-0) are about to face their first big test of the season Tuesday night when they host the Virginia Cavaliers (1-1).
The game will wrap up a three-game homestand for No. 15 Houston to open the season. The Cougars have won 27 consecutive games on their home court.
Marcus Sasser continued the roll he was on to end last season over the past week, extending his streak of 20-plus-point games to four when he scored 26 points in a 79-46 victory over Rice on Friday.
Sasser is averaging 25.5 points per game through the first two games while transfer guard Kyler Edwards is averaging 14.0 points and 8.5 rebounds so far. J’Wan Roberts has been a force on the glass with 15 rebounds against Hofstra and nine against Rice.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has been pleased with the opportunity to see his new rotations on the court, which also include guard Taze Moore, a transfer from CSU Bakersfield who earned All-Big West first-team honors last season.
“Marcus, Taze and Kyler, the more they play together, the better they will get,” Sampson said. “It’s just our second game. We’re going to get better as we go, and we’re going to need to.”
Defensively, Houston forced 20 turnovers, which they converted into 34 points. The Cougars committed only seven turnovers and dominated inside with 16 offensive rebounds.
“We work on guarding actions,” Sampson said. “We just executed the game plan flawlessly. We frustrated them. They couldn’t get into the paint with the dribble.”
Getting into the paint with the dribble is one of the staples of Tony Bennett’s best teams in his 13 seasons at Virginia. But during their season-opening 66-58 loss to Navy last Tuesday, the Cavaliers struggled on that front as the Midshipmen hit 11 of 21 3-pointers in the upset victory.
Virginia, which dropped out of the Top 25 polls this week, bounced back with a stronger effort on both ends of the floor during a 73-52 home victory over Radford on Friday.
“You know, we got some decent looks, some threes early and missed a couple,” Bennett said. “But no, the second half was not as sharp as the first half, but there were still some things to build on in it.”
Armaan Franklin, a transfer guard from Indiana who missed the opener with an illness, led the Cavaliers with 21 points and hit 5-of-8 three-pointers. Franklin shot only 1-for-7 from long distance against Navy.
“I felt like I took the Navy loss really hard just for me because I felt like I didn’t do my job to the best of my ability,” Franklin said. “And when I don’t do that, I feel like I’m letting people down. Tonight, I was a lot more relaxed, played free.”
Another transfer, Jayden Gardner, is making a strong impression early at Virginia, recording 18 points and seven rebounds against Radford.
Houston and Virginia have split the six meetings all-time, but the two programs haven’t played since the Cougars beat the Cavaliers 81-58 on Feb. 7, 1988, in Houston.
–Field Level Media