The Houston Cougars (7-4) lost 99-94 to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (12-2) last night in what UH head coach Tom Penders called a "rock-em-sock-em up-and-down great basketball game." And despite the loss, it was one of the more exciting games played inside Hofheinz Pavilion this season. Yet the Cougars lost.
It would be easy to look at the rebound differential and see Tech's 55-32 advantage on the boards as the key reason behind the loss. Or you could look at the Cougars not going to a full-court press until the closing minutes of the game -- a move which fully appeared to throw Tech off of their game for the first time the entire night. You could also look at some bad officiating.
But when one really takes a look at the final score, the explanations are rather more simple. Aubrey Coleman, the team's best player missed five of his six free throw attempts. He makes all five, the game is tied and headed to overtime. Then there's guard Adam Brown getting the steal out of the press with 1:08 left in the game, looking up the court to see if there were any onrushing defenders, then dribbling the ball off of his foot.
And it's just like that a team loses a game.
"I take blame for that one," Brown said. And it's a shame that that play will be what he's remembered for from Tuesday's game, because in a game where Coleman was 9-for-22 from the field, and Kelvin Lewis was 5-for-16, Brown shook off a shooting slump to go 7-for-13 (6-of-10 from three-point range) for 20 points to be the team's leading scorer along with grabbing a total of five rebounds and two steals in a tremendous all-around game.
"It sucks.Simple as that," Brown said of his miscue. "We're right there, and got the steal, a couple of more dribbles and we're down two. Got another steal, and the game's tied. It was a heartbreaker. It was tough. I tried to just -- I know it was the play of the game, you got to wipe it out and keep playing, but I knew right then and there that that could have been, and was, one of the deciding factors in the game."
The Bulldogs came out in the game determined to match the Cougars stride for stride in the running game, and to Penders, Louisiana Tech's running ability was no surprise. Coleman was a little surprised that Tech could stick with the Cougars in the running game, but then said that that shouldn't have been a factor in the defeat.
"They ran with us in the first half, that was kind of a surprise," he said. "In the second half, we knew that they were going to do that, but we just didn't have an answer for it."
Still, the Cougars were all set to go into the locker room after the first half with the 46-44 lead after Coleman got a steal and made a lay-up to give UH the lead with 6.6 seconds left. But Tech made a three-pointer as time expired to take the 47-46 lead into their locker room (it was a shot that was reviewed by the officials on videotape to see if it was a two or three-pointer). And except for a few brief seconds early in the second half, the Cougars never held another lead.
Still, the Cougars were never out of the game, but they were always just one step behind, just one second too slow, and they could never capitalize when they had the chances to get the points that would pull them into a tie. And throw in Coleman's inability to hit his free throws, or Brown's dribbling the ball off of his foot, and it just appeared that it wasn't the Cougars night.
The loss bothers Penders -- Louisiana Tech is a good team who has played some strong teams to get it's record (as well as a few cupcakes). But what bothered Penders more than anything was that the Bulldogs were more on the ball than the Cougars.
"I just thought early in the game they were a step quicker. And out-hustled us early in the game for loose balls, and that disturbed me more than the rebounding."
Still, this was a game the Cougars could have, and should have won. But could have, and should have, aren't always enough in the world of college basketball.
The Cougars are now off to San Antonio to play UT-San Antonio on New Year's Day. Then they play Iowa State in Iowa on Sunday, before returning to Texas to take on Rice at Rice next Wednesday. Their next home game will be a televised affair against conference foe Tulsa on Saturday, January 9th.
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