January 29, 2023

Houston’s first game as the nation’s No. 1 in nearly 39 years was a resounding success.

The Cougars will be looking to follow up their convincing 100-52 win over Norfolk State with another strong performance when they take on Saint Mary’s at the 2K22 Battlefield in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday night.

The last time Houston was the No. 1 team in the country, big stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon made the list.

And despite Wednesday’s easy win over Norfolk State, the Cougars (7-0) are aware that the No. 1 ranked list could disappear with a slip or an inferior performance.

“We can lose it anytime,” Houston guard Jamal Shead said after the home win. “Hopefully we keep it, but we could lose it tomorrow, the next day, the day after tomorrow. We don’t even have to lose to lose it. It could go anytime.”

Saint Mary’s (6-2) is certainly a threat despite losing their last two games to Washington and New Mexico.

The Gaels are 2-12 all-time against the No. 1 teams, both with wins coming over Gonzaga – the Bulldogs’ memorable upset in the 2019 West Coast Conference title game and another major madness of the past season.

However, the Cougars have rolled over opponents by more than 25 points with five wins. Only games in Oregon (66-56) and home to Kent State (49-44) were decided by 10 points or fewer.

Houston also hopes star guard Marcus Sasser (team-best 18.1 points per game) has his shooting problems resolved.

Sasser had a season-high 25 points and made 7 of 12 3-point attempts against Norfolk State. He’s been 7 of 37 behind the arc in the last five competitions, including 1 of 10 three nights earlier against Kent State.

“He just needed to see someone go in,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “As soon as he saw one go in, he saw another go in, and I said, ‘You’re in trouble.’ His shot selection was amazing.”

The standout was Sasser’s third 20-point effort of the season.

Tramon Mark (10.6) and Jarace Walker (10.3) are also in double digits, while J’Wan Roberts (9.7) is just off the pace. Walker averages 7.0 rebounds as a team leader and Roberts averages 6.9 rebounds per game.

The Cougars allow just 48 points per game, the nation’s best figure coming into play on Thursday. Houston also leads the nation in field goal percent defense (30 percent) and 3-point percent defense (18.5).

Saint Mary’s allows just 57.5 points per game (21st nationally) and have not allowed more than 70 points – giving up exactly 70 points in the opener against Oral Roberts.

Alex Ducas and Mitchell Saxen share the team standings with 14.5 points per game. Saxen also leads the Gaels in rebounds (8.9).

Ducas tied his career best with 25 points in Wednesday’s 69-65 loss to New Mexico. The setback ended Saint Mary’s 23-game home winning streak.

Gaels coach Randy Bennett targeted opponents like the Cougars to improve the schedule according to the school’s NCAA tournament resume.

Little did he know, of course, that Houston would be No. 1 in early December. The Cougars fit into the plan.

“We kind of came up with a strategic plan of what we need to do to do non-conferences, and that also depends on how many teams we think are going to be (well) in the (WCC),” Bennett said recently.

This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools. Houston has a 2-1 lead, but Saint Mary’s won the last meeting on December 13, 1996, 72-65.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *