Coogs Lose...Is The Clock Ticking On Tom Penders?

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Photo courtesy UH
​The Houston Cougar football and basketball teams have one thing in common: neither can defeat the University of Central Florida.

But whereas football coach Kevin Sumlin just received a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract extension, it might well be that this 78-71 Cougar loss to UCF is the final nail in the coffin of Tom Penders' career as UH basketball coach -- barring some miracle run that extends deep into the NCAA Tournament.

"We just didn't come out to play," guard Aubrey Coleman said. "We took too long to get started."

The Cougars last lead was 1:47 into the game when they were up by three points. UCF dominated the rest of the way, holding the Cougars to a 26.9 first-half field-goal percentage that saw the Cougars sucking from inside and outside of the paint. That UCF led only 34-23 at the half spoke more to poor caliber of play from both teams than it did to any superb play from either, though UCF shot 57.7 percent in the first half.

"We had no sense of urgency on the court," Coleman said. "By the time we started to come back, it was just too late."

And try and comeback the Cougars did. They were down by 14 points with just 3:15 remaining, yet were able to take advantage of some UCF turnovers to make the final score appear closer than reality. But the Cougars, who shot just 25.4 percent for the entire night (including an awful 5-24 from three point range) never really stood a chance at getting the win. Not after that start.

"It was an embarrassment. That's what it was," Coleman said in a withering critique of himself and the team. "There's no way that we should come out there -- not any game -- there's no way we're supposed to do that. There wasn't anybody focused on what we needed to do. I think a couple of guys took them lightly."

Tom Penders disagreed, saying the players were focused and had just come off two very good practices. He also stated that Coleman took every loss hard. The loss, to Penders, wasn't a result of focus or taking UCF too lightly.

"I don't care what you're running, or what you're doing, when you can only make 25 percent of your shots, it's tough to compete or be competitive and win a basketball game. All you can do is scratch and scrap and fight and do the best we could."

It was a result of too much effort. Of the guys trying to hard on offense and not relaxing. And UCF taking advantage of a Cougar defensive plan meant to stop the UCF three-point game (which the Cougars did) by taking advantage of the low post.

"When you scout a team, and you break down film, and you see them winning when they're hitting threes, and you set your defenses in preparation," Penders said. "They were going to get some easy stuff inside."

It's just that Penders didn't anticipate UCF getting as much easy stuff as it did while his team was being completely unable to do anything offensively. "We couldn't get that game going in a way we felt would favor us. You have to have some offense."

But what the Cougars had on offense was too often guys jacking up three-pointers early in the shot clock, guys dribbling the ball away as the shot clock ran out, or somebody missing an easy lay-up.

The loss was, in many ways, the perfect Penders game. His guys played a speed game. They took away the outside shots and got the turnovers. They were also heavily out-rebounded and had some trouble on the free-throw line. But if his guys make their shots, the Cougars probably win the game -- that they were close as they were was due to Coleman going 16-for-18 from the free throw line.

But when a team shoots like the Cougars did last night, there's just no way they're going to win. The 10-8 Cougars now move on to Memphis where they'll play the 13-5 Tigers (the victims of a big upset loss to UTEP last night) on Saturday night on ESPN 2. And if the Cougars play Memphis like they played UCF, then the Cougars will be lucky to get within double digits.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:Maurice McNeil came off the bench for the Cougars last night instead of starting, as normal. This was a disciplinary move as McNeil missed a class on Tuesday, and Penders says that if you're a starter and you miss a class, then you don't start the game....Aubrey Coleman finished with 30 points. It was his fourth 30-point game of the season, and the seventh 30-point game of his career.

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