One season is ending. One season is just beginning. But for the Houston Cougars, it's a big Thanksgiving weekend either way with the football team playing for the C-USA West title, and the basketball team up in Alaska playing against Big 12 power Oklahoma in the Great Alaska Shootout on Thursday.
That the football team is playing for the C-USA West title with the chance to play in the conference championship game is, in itself, a bit of a miracle. The Cougars shot themselves in the foot way back in October when they lost to UTEP and suffered a conference defeat. But after handling the games that followed, including the last-second win at Tulsa, the Cougars were cruising to the title. Only to lose to UCF two weeks ago.
That left the Cougars a game behind SMU in the C-USA West standings. But thankfully, SMU coach June Jones was more concerned with getting a trip to a bowl game in Hawaii, and less concerned with actually winning the conference and the chance to play in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. And thankfully, his team followed his example, and they lost to Marshall on Saturday in a game that they should have won. Thus, SMU and Houston are now tied, and the Cougars hold the tiebreaker advantage.
"We have to concern ourselves with the next game," QB Case Keenum said last week. "Things tend to have a way working out. At the end of the season it seems like everything goes crazy and a lot of situations are possible. We just have to worry about ourselves."
And he was right. The Cougars took care of business against Tulsa and things worked out. Of course, as Keenum said, the Cougars have to keep worrying about themselves and the next game. Rice should be an easy win for the Cougars. Then again, UTEP and UCF should have been easy wins.
Speaking of Keenum, while he may not end up in the final running for the Heisman, he is one of the finalists, along with Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim Tebow of Florida, for the Davey O'Brien Award. The O'Brien Award is given to the nation's best quarterback, and the winner is selected by a group of reporters, journalists, and broadcasters (and no, I don't have a vote). There is also a fan element to the award, and the fan vote counts for five percent of the overall vote.
The men's basketball team, unlike the football team, is coming off of a loss to Nevada on Saturday night. Nevada was 24-for-38 from the field in the first half and finished by shooting 60.9 percent on the night to win 112-99. The Cougars shot a respectable 44 percent, but were out-rebounded by Nevada 57-27.
Nevada took a 61-44 lead and turned it into a 26-point lead midway through the second half before the Cougars, behind stud shooting guard Aubrey Coleman, made a valiant comeback effort and got to within six points with about five minutes on the clock before going down.
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Coleman finished the night with 32 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. It was his second straight 30-plus point game and the fifth of his career. But except for guard Adam Brown off of the bench, Coleman didn't have much help, especially on the boards. Looking at the rebounding numbers, it's a wonder that the Cougars didn't lose by more than they did.
Head coach Tom Penders said that Nevada was on fire from the start, and that his guys failed to match their intensity. But Penders also said the altitude in Reno played a bit of a role in the outcome. "The altitude was as factor in this game," he said. "Our guys were having trouble, we could feel it."
The altitude shouldn't be much of a factor starting Thanksgiving. Instead, the Cougars are just going to have to worry about staying warm as they're slated to play three games in Anchorage, Alaska, starting late Thursday night with a premier match-up against Oklahoma. The Cougars will take on San Diego on Friday night. And they will play either Washington State, Alaska Anchorage, or Nicholls State on Saturday at a time to be determined.
The Thursday and Friday basketball games will tip off at 10:30 p.m. and will air on Comcast Sports Southwest -- that means most of us won't be able to see them. The football team will play Rice on Saturday night at 7 p.m., and it, too, will air on Comcast Sports Southwest, which means that about the only way to actually see the game is to attend to the game in person.