No. 1 Houston poised for challenge vs. surging Texas A&M

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 24 Mar, 2024 at 12:11 AM

Credit: Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK

MEMPHIS -- When Texas A&M and Houston played Dec. 16 at the Houston Rockets' Toyota Center, the Aggies didn't have second-leading scorer Tyrece Radford and played emerging guard Manny Obaseki for only nine minutes in a 70-66 loss.

And the Cougars got 21 key minutes out of forward Joseph Tugler, plus another six off the bench from Terrance Arceneaux. Both are out for the year due to injury.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson knows these aren't the same teams that played just over three months ago. He figures ninth-seeded Texas A&M may have an advantage in Sunday night's rematch with his top-seeded Cougars in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at FedEx Forum.

"It's not going to be hard to motivate their kids," he said. "They're going to want to come in here and get some payback. If you look at the SEC right now, they're probably the best team. They have a team that can get to the Final Four."

So does Houston (31-4), even in its reduced state. Its depth isn't the same as it has been for most of the season but it still has an elite defense to go along with a mostly underrated offense. Both were on full display Friday night in an 86-46 beating of 16th-seeded Longwood.

The Cougars had more points off turnovers (17) and more points in the paint (20) in the first half than the Lancers did for the full game. They forced 14 turnovers in the first half and 18 for the game while limiting Longwood to shoot only 34.1 percent from the field.

Simply put, they treated the Lancers as though they were capable of beating them.

"They were a good team and they were here for a reason," point guard Jamal Shead said. "We don't look at favorites or seeding. We have to have the right approach or we could lose."

They won't have to manufacture that mindset for this game. The Aggies (21-14) set a season high for points in their 98-83 whipping of Nebraska Friday night, getting 25 points and seven 3-pointers from Wade Taylor.

They also got 22 from Obaseki, including 16 straight to end the first half, and 20 from Radford. He added 10 rebounds and five assists. Jace Carter chipped in 13 points off the bench and another reserve, Henry Coleman, hit for 10.

What makes this - and their previous 90-point outbursts at the SEC tourney last week - more remarkable was that this was a poor shooting team in the regular season. Texas A&M hit just 39.7 percent from the field, 349th in Division I.

"Our offense has been so up and down that we can't rely on our offense," Aggies coach Buzz Williams said. "We're happy when things go good and when we make a shot or when we get fouled. We're a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde sometimes offensively."

Taylor has been at his best lately, averaging 29 ppg in the past three games and canning 19 of 36 3-point attempts.

The winner advances to the South Region semifinals Friday night in Dallas against either James Madison or Duke.

--Bucky Dent, Field Level Media