No. 1 Houston has plenty more to show beyond trying to extend its 12-game win streak when it faces Cincinnati in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Cougars (30-2), the top seed in this event and the winner of the past two AAC tournament championships, advanced to the semifinals with a 60-46 win over ninth-seeded East Carolina in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon.
Marcus Sasser scored 30 points, 24 of those in the second half, to lift the Cougars to the win. Jamal Shead added 12 points for Houston, with J’Wan Roberts taking a team-high 12 rebounds.
The Cougars won even though they shot just 28.1 percent from the floor (their worst shooting game of the year), made just one of their final nine shots and gave up 24 points in the paint.
“Just seemed like it was a struggle today making shots,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said afterward. “Going forward, we’re just going to have to play better. We were kind of out of character today on a lot of things. We’ll get it back, I think.
Houston’s defense always seems to be the deciding factor, and it was in the win over East Carolina, which shot just 31.4 percent and committed 17 turnovers, which the Cougars converted to 19 points.
“We had a lot of open shots and we were moving the ball pretty well,” Shead said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go down. But like Coach said, we need to get back to our culture and get back to offensive rebounding.”
Houston beat the Bearcats both times the teams played in the regular season, by 13 points on the road and by six at home.
Cincinnati, the fourth seed in this event, earned a spot in the semifinals with a dominating 84-54 quarterfinal win over Temple, the fifth seed. Landers Nolley II led the Bearcats (21-11) with 22 points, Mika Adams-Woods and Dan Skillings Jr. had 20 points apiece and Ody Oguama took 12 rebounds.
“To win with that margin, you’re obviously really pleased and proud of the guys,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said. “We played well. (Temple) is a good basketball team. We’re proud of that. It’s about tomorrow now. Now it’s time to get ready for a big-time game tomorrow.”
Nolley has scored in double figures for 22 straight games. The output was a season best for Adams-Woods and career-high for Skillings, who keyed a mid-first half rally with seven straight points. Cincinnati carried a 10-point lead to the half and poured it on after halftime.
“That’s the way we played off (Skillings), honestly,” Nolley said of his teammate. “He was rolling, so we’re just trying to find the hot guy any time no matter who it is. He lifted us up, and we were able to take off after that.”
Houston and Cincinnati will play in the AAC championship game for the fourth time in the past five renditions of the event. The Cougars beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals last year on the way to the title.
–Field Level Media