Houston thwarts UConn: Cougars end regular season with perfect home slate

Connor McKay, Contributing Writer

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      This past Sunday, the Houston Cougars defeated the University of Connecticut Huskies 81-71 in a nail-biting finish. Playing at the H&PE Area in Houston, The Cougars proved they are the team to beat at home this season, finishing 15-0 at H&PE Arena.

     Houston took an early lead in the game, utilizing their skilled shooters to hit some impressive threes. By the 13th minute mark, the Cougars took a clear lead with a 20-9 score over Uconn. The Huskies would not go down without a fight, creeping up slowly on the Cougars and taking advantage of some offensive rebounds and Houston’s foul trouble to close the gap. Uconn countered the success of Houston’s distance shooters by playing a very physical game, making a good portion of their shots in the paint.

      Houston fans were very vocal about the leniency of the refs during the game, frustrated that some of the very physical plays were not being called. Uconn took all this in strides, closing the gap by making seven points off Houston turnovers alone. With only 20 seconds left in the first half, Uconn shocked everyone by taking their first lead of the game and ending the half with a 38-37 lead.

       The Huskies came out of the locker room with a vendetta for victory, doing everything in their power to keep their lead over the 25th-ranked Cougars. The tightness of the game lasted throughout most of the second half. At the 13:30 minute mark, Uconn still held a one-point lead over Houston at 47-46. Despite the dominance and skill of Houston, the Huskies took advantage of their shooter Jalen Adams, who asserted himself over Houston. Adams helped the Huskies convert 57% of shots made compared to the 47% of Houston. Adams was the top scorer for UConn on Sunday, finishing with 22 points and six assists.

      Not to be outdone on their senior night, the Cougars proved themselves to be the better team when the clock went below the five-minute mark. Led by an all-star Robert Gray, the Cougars’ success came from their rebounds, both offensive and defensive, along with Gray’s shots.

        Gray had an outstanding game, scoring 30 points and going 4-for-5 from the three-point line. Those three-pointers kept the Cougars alive, especially during those close final minutes. Physicality would continue to be a factor in the game. While both teams dealt with foul trouble, the Cougars used their success at the line combined with Gray’s efforts to retake the lead. The Huskies could not keep up, and when their top rebounder Christian Vital fouled out, the game was over.

     With going the entire regular season undefeated at their home court, the Cougars proved themselves to be a powerhouse. While the Huskies start their AAC tournament journey facing Orlando on Thursday, Houston basks in their victory, earning the third seed and first-round bye in the AAC tournament. They will play in the quarterfinals on Friday.