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Feb 9, 2024 4:40 am

No. 5 Houston, facing Cincinnati, looks to retain Big 12 lead

Houston Cougars

The fifth-ranked Houston Cougars will attempt to ride the momentum from an emotional win when they visit the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday afternoon in a Big 12 matchup.

The Cougars (20-3, 7-3 Big 12) bounced back from a loss at then-No. 8 Kansas with a 79-63 home victory over Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.

“It was a good win,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “In this league, they’re all great wins because they all count the same. For us, it’s a good bounce-back.”

The Cougars reached the 20-win plateau for the ninth straight season and remained in sole possession of first place in the highly competitive Big 12.

The win didn’t come without drama, though. Sampson was ejected with 15 minutes left in the second half for arguing with the officials, his first ejection in 10 years at Houston.

Sampson was restrained by his players and coaches after leaving his bench and racing to the other end of the court to berate officials for his perceived foul discrepancy and the physical nature of the game. The Cougars led by 20 points at the time.

“I have no thoughts,” Sampson said when asked to explain. “So, if I say something, answer your question, they fine me $25,000, what part of the $25,000 are you willing to pay? So, don’t ask me silly questions because it’s a $25,000 fine if I tell the truth. So, I can’t, so don’t ask me.”

As for the game, the Cougars returned to form thanks to 23 points from senior point guard Jamal Shead and 16 from Emanuel Sharp.

Even with Sampson upset at the officiating, Houston, thanks to 17 first-half points from Shead, built a 40-21 halftime lead and cruised to victory.

“These guys follow (Shead),” Sampson said. “He has such great control of the game. When the ball is in his hands, when the ball is not in his hands. We’ve had some great leaders here. Jamal’s the best leader we’ve had. Our kids respect him because he works hard in practice every day, too, so that gives him credibility.”

Houston is making its second trip to Cincinnati this season, having defeated the Bearcats’ crosstown rival Xavier 66-60 on Dec. 1.

Cincinnati (15-7, 4-5) has had a full week to savor one of its biggest wins of the season, a 75-72 road victory over then-No. 15 Texas Tech.

“We had a good mentality against one of the best teams in one of the best environments in college basketball,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said.

The Bearcats will be looking for another resume-building win, as they also have prevailed on the road against then-No. 12 BYU and registered a home win over then-No. 19 TCU in overtime.

Simas Lukosius led the Bearcats with 16 points against the Red Raiders.

“We’ve been rolling and riding him so hard down the stretch of games,” Miller said of the 6-foot-8 junior. “He’s got a lot on his shoulders to make plays and make shots. He’s had some nights when he’s really done it. He’s had some nights where I know he wishes a few more went down. He’s stayed with it every day and continued to improve defensively.”

Aziz Bandaogo had his fourth double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Dan Skillings Jr. added 14 points as Cincinnati bounced back from blowing a 10-point, second-half lead in a 69-65 loss at West Virginia.

–Field Level Media

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