Third-ranked Houston has its sights set on another deep NCAA Tournament run but doesn’t always feel it receives the proper level of respect.
The Cougars, fresh off a noteworthy victory, will look to improve to 12-1 when they host McNeese (3-9) on Wednesday night.
Houston earned a 69-61 victory over then-No. 2 Virginia on Saturday, the first road win over a top-two team in school history.
Yes, such an accomplishment wasn’t achieved by the Elvin Hayes-led Houston teams in the late 1960s or the Phi Slama Jama teams featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the early 1980s.
The current Cougars have more work to do to attain the status of the school’s legendary squads, and they got a dose of that after their lone loss of the season.
When then-No. 1 Houston succumbed 71-65 at home to then-No. 8 Alabama on Dec. 10, the players could feel the legion of skeptics chiming in with their feelings.
“I feel like after we lost to Alabama, people kind of doubted us,” Cougars star guard Marcus Sasser said following the victory over Virginia. “Didn’t think we even deserved to be where we were (ranked). I think (Saturday was) a win to show that we are capable (of) being one of the top teams in the nation.”
The Cougars moved up two spots in the rankings after the win over Virginia, an outing in which they held the Cavaliers to 27.3 percent shooting (6 of 22) from 3-point range.
Houston reached the Final Four two seasons ago and the Elite Eight last season and is primed to receive a high seed in this season’s tournament.
Guard Jamal Shead said noise from the cynics shouldn’t have any bearing on performance.
“Doubters or not, we’ve got to stick together to be the team we want to be,” Shead said.
Sasser leads the Cougars with a 15.9 scoring average while Jarace Walker is the lone other player in double digits at 10 points per game. Walker also is second on the squad in rebounding (6.5 per game), trailing only J’Wan Roberts (7.0).
Walker, a freshman, stood out against Virginia with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
McNeese has lost three straight games since recording a 52-49 road victory over Northern Iowa on Dec. 9. That is the Cowboys’ lone road win in seven attempts this season.
McNeese fell 86-67 at Southern Miss on Sunday, when the Cowboys shot just 38.3 percent from the field.
Zach Scott scored a season-best 21 points and had four treys for McNeese. He ranks third on the squad in scoring at 9.8 points per game.
Trae English had 14 points against Southern Miss to increase his team-high scoring average to 12.3. Christian Shumate is averaging 10.8 points and a team-best 10 rebounds per game.
McNeese’s early-season schedule included road losses against Baylor (by 29 points), Tennessee (36) and Iowa State (37).
Now the Cougars are next. McNeese coach John Aiken recently said there was a method to the scheduling madness.
“Play the ranked schools in hopes of using it as experience against power teams if you play them in the (NCAA) Tournament in March,” Aiken said.
Houston is 6-1 all-time against McNeese. The Cougars won the most recent meeting 81-53 during the 2017-18 season.
–Field Level Media