The Houston Cougars and Rice Owls are bad basketball teams. Both teams struggle to score. Both teams have difficulties shooting the ball. They're turnover prone. It can be difficult watching them play games, and when it's like it was Wednesday night, when the two faced off at Hofheinz Pavilion, it can feel like the game of basketball has been set back 50 years.
The Cougars (8-12) got the 59-48 win over the Owls (6-13) to snap an eight-game losing streak. But it was an ugly game, one with a 22-20 halftime score that saw both teams shoot 37 percent from the floor for the half, brick shot after shot, and throwaway pass after pass. The Cougars were the least worst team of the night, but watching the game, it was easy to see how the Cougars had lost eight straight conference games. And if not for the unexpected strong play of the UH bench, which outscored the Rice bench 17-2, UH would probably have faced a ninth straight loss.
Both coaches were brutally honest after the game. Words like "ugly," "disappointing," "passive," "challenged" and "unacceptable" were freely used by both coaches. UH coach Kelvin Sampson liked his team's effort. Rice's coach, Mike Rhoades, didn't like his team's effort and thought his guys were awful. Sampson didn't think his guys were awful; he just thinks they're challenged.
"We were just really bad today," Rhoades stated. "I can't sugarcoat it. I love my guys, and we played really hard. And they're trying their butts off, but we weren't very good today."
The Owls struggled to shoot the ball, again, making only 5 of 14 three-pointers, which is a bad thing for a team like Rice that depends on three-point shots. A lot of Rice's shooting problems were due to Houston's defense, which forced Rice shooters away from their standard spots on the floor, but Rice was once again sloppy with the ball, turning it over 15 times while missing numerous shots down low in the post. Sampson, meanwhile, appreciated his team's effort, and noted that the shots they missed in the first half were the ones they started making in the second half. Still, just don't expect much from his team on the offensive side of the ball.
"We're an offensively challenged team," Sampson said. "We're going to be that in every game we play. That's who we are. We don't score...We don't shoot it great. If you have to ask why, you're not watching the game. We're not a great offensive team. That's just what it is. So we have to figure other ways to win games." And that's the thing with Houston and Rice basketball this season. Both teams have to figure out other ways to win the game. Ways like rebounding, playing a stifling defense, not turning the ball over, executing, making the extra effort. But that makes for some ugly basketball to watch, and the bad news is that it's not going to get pretty anytime soon.
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UH is clearly rebuilding, and Sampson has stated on multiple occasions that this season is about laying a foundation that will lead to long-term success for the Cougars. Rice's Rhoades has stated that his team's not rebuilding, and he told that to the Press earlier this week. He expects them to win games now. He's quite aware that his foundation, too, is lacking, and that his team is undermanned, undersized and not as physically gifted as most, but he believes they can win games, if they play perfect basketball.
Both teams are easy to root for. There is no lackadaisical play on the floor. Both fight for rebounds and work on positioning on the court. Rice is slower and probably has better shooters. UH has more athletic players and more all-around skill. The players don't try to play outside of their respective systems. There is no showboating, no one-on-one basketball. But there is no artistry or beauty to the games, unless shots clinking off of the rim can be artistic in some strange, bizarre fashion.
The attitudes of the coaches and the players seem to be in the right place. Rhoades is not willing to accept being merely competitive -- that's no longer just good enough for Rice. Sampson's not willing to accept that UH, once a great basketball school, can't return to that status in the foreseeable future. But that's yet to happen, and despite attitudes and effort, it might never happen for either school.
The Owls are on the road this weekend, journeying to Denton to face conference foe North Texas on Saturday night. Mike Rhoades hopes to see his guys shake off the turnover bug and break out of the passiveness he saw against UH so that they can collect the win. The Cougars, meanwhile, host defending national champion UConn at Hofheinz Pavilion on Sunday afternoon. So if you're looking for a way to waste some time before the Super Bowl, head on up to the Houston campus and see if the Cougars have any luck getting over that whole offensively-challenged problem.