It didn’t matter that Houston needed to play a digital highway sport. Or that two of the Cougars’ finest gamers had been hampered by accidents and foul bother.
Kelvin Sampson’s robust, tenacious crew refused to grow to be the most recent upset sufferer on this yr’s unpredictable NCAA males’s event.
Staring at a 10-point deficit when the second half started, top-seeded Houston responded to a problem from its coach to dial up its defensive effort. The Cougars surged into the lead and methodically squeezed the life out of ninth-seeded Auburn en path to an 81-64 comeback victory and a berth in a fourth straight Sweet 16.
Auburn failed to attain a single basket for a 10-minute second-half stretch and managed solely 4 complete discipline targets after halftime. Prized Houston freshman Jarace Walker and fellow ahead J’Wan Roberts anchored the Cougars’ inside protection, combining for 11 of their crew’s 12 blocked pictures.
With first-team All-American Marcus Sasser battling a lingering groin damage and level guard Jamal Shead dealing with a balky knee, junior guard Tramon Mark picked up the offensive slack. Mark unleashed a career-high 26 factors, almost triple his season-long common, to assist Houston regain the lead seven minutes into the second half after which draw back within the closing 5 minutes.
Had Houston misplaced, it might have marked the primary time in NCAA event historical past that three No. 1 seeds failed to achieve the NCAA event’s second weekend. Purdue turned the second No. 1 to be waylaid by a No. 16 on Friday night time and Kansas fell to eighth-seeded Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.
Houston as an alternative superior inside two victories of a Final Four look of their house metropolis and arrange an Sweet 16 matchup with both Indiana or Miami. A conflict with the Hoosiers would pit Sampson in opposition to this system the place he coached from 2006-08 earlier than resigning amidst allegations of NCAA recruiting violations.
In some methods, Houston’s path to the NCAA event’s second weekend was extra treacherous than different high seeds. The NCAA event choice committee gifted Auburn the prospect to play near house in Birmingham, turning the top-seeded Cougars’ second-round matchup into a real highway sport.
Asked on Friday if he anticipated a 90% pro-Auburn crowd, Sampson chuckled and mentioned, “90%? I’m hoping 90.” Later in his pregame information convention, Sampson seized the chance to ask for the assist of any Alabama followers who had been inside Legacy Arena to observe the Crimson Tide tackle Maryland in Saturday’s doubleheader nightcap.
“We need some help,” Sampson mentioned with a smile. “Roll Tide!”
Judging from the roars after each Auburn basket on Friday, Sampson’s pitch didn’t win Houston many new supporters. The Legacy Arena crowd erupted because the halftime buzzer sounded when Auburn harassed Sasser into an off-balance airball to protect a 10-point lead.
Houston emerged from halftime reenergized and methodically clawed its means again. Now the Cougars are midway to a hometown Final Four.