Houston star guard Marcus Sasser pronounced himself as 90 percent recovered from his groin injury on Thursday, one day before the top-seeded Cougars face fifth-seeded Miami in the Sweet 16 at Kansas City, Mo.
Point guard Jamal Shead (knee) also confirmed he is ready to play in the Midwest Region semifinal.
Sasser has been dealing with the injury since being hurt during a victory over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals on March 11. He missed the AAC title game loss to Memphis and reinjured the groin during a first-round NCAA Tournament triumph over Northern Kentucky.
Last Saturday, Sasser played well against Auburn and had 22 points and five 3-pointers in the Cougars’ 81-64 victory. The groin has continued to improve this week.
“I’ve just been doing a good job getting treatment, massages, stretches,” said Sasser, who averages a team-best 16.9 points per game. “I’d say I’ll probably be around 90 percent by Friday, so I’ve been getting healthy.”
Shead hurt his knee against Northern Kentucky and had 10 points and five assists in the victory over Auburn. But he was just 2-of-8 shooting and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
“Mine was just a bang-up (play),” Shead said. “So I’m back to 100 percent in just these couple of days to recover. I’m back to being pretty good.”
Shead averages 10.4 points and a team-best 5.4 assists.
Houston (33-3) is two wins away from getting to play in the Final Four in its hometown. But Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson refuses to look past the next 40 minutes.
“If we play good tomorrow, we’ve got a chance to win,” Sampson said. “If we don’t, we’ll go home, and that’s just the way it is. Hasn’t changed since this tournament started. That’s why you don’t ever prepare for next week. You prepare for it logistically, but these games are hard to win, man.”
Miami (27-7) has reached the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Also impressive is that the Hurricanes have advanced at least this far four times since 2013.
“I think, if you didn’t know that we were one of the 16 teams to make a run to the Sweet 16 four out of the last 10 years, you would not have guessed us until maybe you got to guess 100,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who is in his 12th season at the school. “Everybody has looked at the University of Miami as a football program, as a football school, and there’s a good reason for that.
“Our football program has won five national championships. And even those who follow baseball know we’ve won four national championships in baseball. But our basketball program has really been elevated over the last 12 years. … So we’re very, very pleased with the company we’re keeping.”
The Hurricanes will soon learn the status of guard Wooga Poplar, who averages 8.4 points per game. Poplar injured his back during Sunday’s second-round win over Indiana.
“Today’s the first chance he had to go up and down since our game against Indiana,” Larranaga said Thursday. “So he looked good to me. I’ll talk to my trainer, and he’ll give me an indication of whether Wooga’s ready to go tomorrow. If he’s ready to go, he’ll be in the starting lineup as always.”
–Field Level Media