Houston Cougars Blow Away the Golden Hurricane

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John Royal
Kirk Van Slyke tips off against Tulsa to start the game
James Dickey preaches the importance of defense to his players. If the Houston Cougars can't score, the thinking goes, they can still win the game by shutting down the offense of the other team. So when the Tulsa Golden Hurricane shot out to a 14-4 lead to start the game, and were up 20-8 with just over eight minutes left in the first half, it looked like the Cougars weren't going to stand much of a chance of getting the win.

The Golden Hurricane offense was one that was averaging 70.7 points per game, after all, but then the UH defense kicked into high gear. And even though the Cougar offense continued to struggle throughout the rest of the game, the Cougar defense didn't, holding Tulsa to only 37 points for the rest of the game as the Cougars (11-6, 3-1 in conference) got the 64-57 win.

"We didn't have any intensity. That's the one thing we were missing," shooting guard Adam Brown said about the Cougars' start to the game. "When you get hit, it's not a matter of you get beat up or not. It's a matter of if you fight back. We started to chip away slowly and then grabbed the lead."

The Cougars came back to grab the lead late in the first half, but were down 30-29 at the half. They came out hot to start the second half, grabbing a 42-34 lead with 15 minutes left in the game. But basketball's a game of runs, and Tulsa went on another run to take the lead at 43-42 with 12 minutes left. And from that one point, neither team was able to take a lead of more than three points until the very end.

But if there's anything that can be said about the Houston Cougars under James Dickey, it's that they're a resilient team learning how to stay in a game, and learning the meaning of sticking to their plan and ratcheting up the defense. And it's this ability that has allowed the Cougars to go to 3-1 in C-USA after pulling off three straight wins over tough opponents.

"It's a great sign that we're playing well right now," point guard Zamal Nixon said of the win. "Our biggest thing is we can't get complacent, and we can't get satisfied. We got a good win tonight, but every night in conference is going to be tough. And we're going to have a tough game on Saturday against UTEP."

The Cougars were aided tonight by the return of power forward Kendrick Washington, who returned to the lineup after missing several weeks due to an elbow injury. Washington was tough down low and his presence late, intercepting a Tulsa pass then finishing things up with a basket down low off of a strong spin move to the bucket with 3:02 left in the game put the Cougars up 58-55 and appeared to seal the win.

"I thought he played as physical as he's played all year," Dickey said of Washington. "He got down there and made some big plays. He hit two big free throws for us, and obviously we wanted to go to him down there."

The Coogs also helped themselves by continuously drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line time and time again. The last four points of the game came from the line, with Nixon making the final four of his 12 free throws on the night. The importance of those free throws was doubled by not only the game being on the line, but from Nixon having missed a very key throw last Saturday that almost cost UH a win against SMU.

Athletic Director Mack "Rhoades really got on me about the one free throw I missed," Nixon said. "And I was like, I've got to get in the gym and get myself ready for this game....Everybody was on me. But I picked it up tonight."

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John Royal
Zamal Nixon operates the offense against Tulsa

Next up for the Cougars are the 15-4 (3-1 in conference) UTEP Miners, who visit Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday night. And while UTEP has one of the best players in the conference in Randy Culpepper (C-USA's leading scorer), the Cougar players are convinced that they can play with anybody.

"In our first four games of the conference, we've played some pretty quality teams," Nixon said. "And we've done well in all of those games, even in the Southern Miss game that we lost; we proved that we could play with them. We just had to put another half together. So if anybody was doubting us before, I think we opened a couple of eyes."

Open eyes the Cougars have. And if they can keep shutting down teams defensively, then they're going to continue to open eyes.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Freshman forward Alandise Harris is the current C-USA Freshman of the Week. Last night, he finished with ten points and six rebounds and drew a key charge at the end of the game....Along with the return of Kendrick Washington, Maurice McNeil also returned to the team last night after having missed Saturday's game with SMU because of a suspension for violation of team rules....The Cougars are now 9-1 at Hofheinz Pavilion this season, and they have won five of their last six games....Darian Thibodeaux hit three three-pointers last night. He has now hit at least one three-pointer in six of his last eight games.

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