CINCINNATI (AP)Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said he doesn’t believe in holding a coronation for a player who has a good game. So there won’t be a coronation for Jarace Walker following his second straight 20-point performance on Sunday.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman scored a game-high 21 points, J’Wan Roberts added 14 points and 11 rebounds and the No. 2 Cougars defeated Cincinnati, 72-59.
”That’s the first time he’s had two consecutive good games,” Sampson said of Walker, who also had five rebounds and three steals. ”But the key is putting together three, four, five, six, seven. We’ve had a lot of guys that’s done what he’s done – played two really good games. But that’s the first time Jarace has done it. I’m proud of him.”
The Cougars, who defeated the Bearcats in each of the last two American Athletic Conference tournaments, extended their winning streak to seven straight over their soon-to-be Big 12 Conference foe.
Both Houston and Cincinnati are scheduled to leave the AAC for the Big 12 on July 1.
Cincinnati’s last two losses to Houston under coach Wes Miller were each by 13 points. That’s an improvement from the 22-point drubbing and the 18-point defeat Miller’s Bearcats suffered to the Cougars in the teams’ previous two matchups.
”We’re in January, we’re in league play. It’s passed silver linings at this point,” Miller said. ”It’s about there’s a standard and you play to it. If you lose, you’ll be pissed off. But if you play to that standard, you wake up the next day and you do it again. To me, that’s where we have to get now … like, now. We didn’t do that today, and that’s not OK. That’s not acceptable.”
Cincinnati guard Landers Nolley II knocked down his first four shots – all from 3-point range – to keep the Bearcats (11-6, 2-2) within striking distance. Nolley scored zero points the rest of the way.
Houston (16-1, 4-0), powered by Walker, went on a 12-3 run and never looked back. Walker had 11 points at halftime and the Cougars led 35-28 at the break.
Houston scored seven points off six first-half turnovers for the Bearcats and owned a 16-8 advantage in the paint at intermission. That advantage ballooned to 36-20 by the end of the day.
”I thought we came out with a purpose (in the second half),” Sampson said. ”We knew exactly how we wanted to guard their actions. We knew the shots we were looking for on offense. We stayed connected.”
Houston opened the second half with five quick points, including a 3 by Jamal Shead, prompting Miller to call a timeout.
The Bearcats then committed another turnover that resulted in a breakaway dunk by Walker.
Cincinnati pulled to within 10 (58-48) with 5:41 to play. Houston led by as many as 20.
”Any time you go on the road, you know the other team is going to make a run,” Sampson said. ”So after we got up 20, they hit a couple 3s and then I thought we let go of the rope a little bit.”
Marcus Sasser took over late. The AAC preseason player of the year finished with 16 points for the Cougars, who extended their overall winning streak to seven games. Sasser also had six rebounds and five steals.
Mika Adams-Woods led the Bearcats with 19. Viktor Lakhin added 16.
Sampson revealed after the game that Walker had a fever before tipoff.
”I asked him could he play,” Sampson said. ”He said he was going to try. I said, `Well, if you’re at 80%, I want 100% of your 80%. If you’re at 75%, then I want 100% of your 75.”’
Houston: Hosts South Florida on Wednesday night.
Cincinnati: Hosts East Carolina on Wednesday night.
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