James Dickey Offers Up an Apology As SMU Smacks Down the Coogs

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John Royal
The Cougar Dolls were about the only things worth cheering at Hofheinz Pavilion last night
James Dickey was not a happy man last night. He prowled the Houston Cougars sidelines like a caged animal, scowling, barking commands, pleading to his players. Shouting out at them to play defense, telling them to play with intensity. To show some energy and to get into the game.

But nothing he shouted worked. None of the players he tried off of the bench worked. None of the combination of players he tried worked. An undersized, undermanned Houston Cougar squad that needs to play with intensity and with solid defense did neither last night as the Cougars (12-12, 4-7 in conference) went down to defeat to the visiting SMU Mustangs 65-51.

"We just came to play basketball instead of win," senior guard Adam Brown said after the game. "We were just out there going through the motions it seems like the whole game."

The Cougar squad did indeed appear to be going through nothing but the motions the entire night. There was no defensive intensity, which was evident from SMU shooting 62.5 percent from the floor in the first half and shooting 56.8 percent from the floor for the entire game.

"We just didn't play with energy," Dickey said. "And I certainly want to apologize to our fans. I want to apologize to our scholarship donors who give so much money, that were here tonight."

SMU center Papa Dia and SMU forward Robert Nyakundi dominated the game in the first half, scoring 33 of SMU's 39 first-half points. Nyakundi nailed four of six from behind the three-point line in the half while Dia was left open time and time again. And while Dickey finally got around to putting Adam Brown and Darian Thibodeaux on Nyakundi in the second half, shutting him down entirely, nobody was able to stop Dia in the second half as SMU dominated the game.

"We came out as individuals tonight," Brown said. "We didn't come out as a team. We didn't come together...We came out with our own agendas, and that's never going to work in basketball. It's five-on-five for a reason."

Yet amazingly, despite just going through the motions, despite the lack of intensity, despite the lack of aggressiveness on offense -- the Coogs had only one free-throw attempt the entire night -- the Cougars were still in the game midway through the second half. Maurice McNeil got past Dia for a lay-up with 9:18 left to make the score 50-47, but they got no closer, scoring only four points for the remainder of the game while the Mustangs continued doing what they did the entire game. That being, they did anything they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.

"I think this is probably the worst performance that we've had all year," Dickey said. "It's my job to get them ready, but we were not ready."

John Royal
SMU's Papa Dia soars over Alandise Harris for two of his 27 points last night
The Cougars gave up too many easy baskets on the defensive end and took too many poor shots on the offensive end. Dickey's blueprint for the team is one that's aggressive on offense, driving the lane and attempting to get the free-throw line while also finding the post and kicking the ball out for threes if the low post guys don't have a shot. But they didn't drive, and their attempts at kicking the ball back out from the post to the guys outside couldn't really be called attempts as the only kicking came about from kicking the ball back to various SMU defenders.

"This is really just a smack in the face," Brown said. "We kind of disrespected ourselves tonight."

The Cougars now travel to El Paso to face the UTEP Miners on Saturday night. And if the Cougars are going to have any chance of a victory, they're going to have to put aside their individual agendas and play as a team. Especially seeing that UTEP was upset by Southern Miss last night and will certainly be out to make a point on their home court, where they are 14-1 this season.

Time is quickly running out for the Cougars. There are only five games left in this season, and the next three of those five are against UTEP, Memphis and UAB, three of the best teams in the conference.

Maybe this loss to SMU will be just the smack in the face the Cougars need. Maybe on Saturday they will come out to win the game, instead of just coming out to play basketball. Maybe on Saturday they will play with energy and play defense. And maybe if all of that happens, they can hand the Miners their second straight loss.

But if they play UTEP the way they played SMU last night, then the Cougars aren't just going to be smacked around, they'll be stripped of any dignity they have left.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Papa Dia finished the game with 27 points for the Ponies. He teamed with Robert Nyakundi for a total of 43 of SMU's 65 points....The leading scorer for the Cougars was Maurice McNeil with 14 points. The only other Cougar to finish in double digits was Darian Thibodeaux, who had 12 points....With this loss, the Cougars have now lost six of their last seven games after starting C-USA play with wins in three of their first four games....The Cougars return to Hofheinz Pavilion on February 26 when they play host to UAB....The Cougars attempted only one free throw last night. The last time they had fewer attempts was on January 19, 2005, when they had zero attempts in a game against TCU.

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