Coogs Keep March Madness Hopes Alive

The Houston Cougars refuse to die, yesterday upsetting Memphis to advance to the C-USA conference tournament semifinals. The final score was 65-64, which came about because of Aubrey Coleman's leaning jumper which banked in off the backboard with five seconds remaining.

Memphis's Willie Kemp, trying to get the ball up court because there were no timeouts remaining, was called for carrying the ball, giving the Cougars the ball, and the victory.

The Cougars led most of the game, including 36-27 at the half. But Memphis got hot in the second half, hitting 56.5 percent of their shots, and grabbed the lead with 3:18 remaining in the game. But the Cougars refused to give up, and used defense, a 46-33 rebound advantage and free-throw shooting to snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat.

The Cougars' leading scorer was Coleman, who finished with 21 points while playing all 40 minutes. He also grabbed eight rebounds, was three-for-four from the free-throw line, and had two assists. Kelvin Lewis finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists for the game, but his biggest contribution came from shutting down Memphis stud Elliot Williams, who was only 1-9 from the floor. And Maurice McNeil once again came up big for the Coogs, finishing with 10 points and a team-leading nine rebounds.

And once again, Hair Balls special correspondent, Tom Franklin, was on hand to provide some first-hand observations.

"Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so," he said. "Aubrey [Coleman] scores 14 in the flow of the game in the first half, and UH leads by nine. Second half, Memphis makes a run, and Aubrey forgets about his teammates, until making two huge shots on the final two possessions to win the game. Four-for-nine in the first half, and 2-10 in the second until those last two shots."

Franklin's key players were Lewis and McNeil. He credited McNeil's energy with feeding the team. McNeil missed the final games for the Cougars due to his mother's illness, but he is come back on fire.

"More great energy from Maurice McNeil," Franklin said. "Ten points, nine rebounds in 24 minutes. The week away has cost him some conditioning, but he has a new sense of purpose to make his Mom proud. Great to have him back."

Then there's Lewis. There may have been lots of casual fans disappointed in Lewis this season, based on his stat line. But Lewis has had one of the more important roles on the team all season because he's the guy that Tom Penders has almost always made Lewis his defensive stopper, and Lewis has almost always responded by shutting down those scorers. Which he again did yesterday by shutting down Williams.

"And how does Kelvin Lewis not make the C-USA all-defensive team?" Franklin asked. "He holds Elliot Williams to 1-for-9 shooting. In the three Memphis games, Williams, the C-USA Newcomer of the Year, scored a total of 26 points on 6-21 shooting due to Kelvin's superior "D". In addition, Kelvin scored 13, including a go-ahead three that put UH on top 62-61 after Memphis had erased an 11-point deficit."

Today at 5:30 the Cougars take on Southern Mississippi. The Cougars lost to them 57-55 the last time these two played. Franklin notes that Memphis scored 40 of their 65 points inside the paint yesterday, and the interior play of the Southern Miss big guys could cause the same problems to the Cougars that Memphis did.

The recipe for a Cougars win today will be as yesterday. Coleman must distribute the ball to his teammates or else they tempt a replay of yesterday's second half. And the big guys, primarily Kendrick Washington, must shut down the Southern Miss big guys.

The Cougars are hanging in against the odds. The odds for winning the C-USA tourney and advancing to the NCAA Tournament are still slight. But come this time Sunday, the future, or lack thereof, of the Cougars will be settled.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal