Nearly Four Decades Later, Coogs Back in the Final Four

Quentin Grimes hits the three that put the Cougars up for good against Oregon State.
Quentin Grimes hits the three that put the Cougars up for good against Oregon State. Screenshot
Houston is not a city that is easy on sports fans. Considering some of the unbelievable sports misery lumped upon the shoulders of fans in Houston over the last year-plus, it's a miracle they remain committed to teams here. But, Monday night delivered a much needed reprieve from our collective sports depression when the UH  men's basketball team ascended to the Final Four for the first time in almost 40 years.

The last time the Cougars were in the big dance, it was 1984 and then Akeem Olajuwon would face off against Georgetown's Patrick Ewing in the championship game. It would also be the second straight time Phi Slama Jama had been to the last game of the season — the lost both times, the first in 1983 with Clyde Drexler to cinderella team NC State.

Once again, the Coogs are one of the best teams in college basketball, particularly defensively, and they held off a furious rally by the Beavers to win 67-61 in the final game of the Midwest Regional. Marcus Sasser and Quentin Grimes led on offense with 20 and 18 points respectively. And DeJon Jarreau once again demonstrated his versatility with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.

Despite a quick start by UH, the game was tied at 55 with just over three minutes left when Grimes hit his fourth three of the night to put his team up for good.

This was a long time coming for Cougar fans. It has taken decades to bring the program back to respectability, much of that the result of the hiring of Kelvin Sampson. The hard nosed coach with a defensive mindset has his fingerprints all over this Cougar team and his players have demonstrated a resilience that has pushed them to this historic season.

Now, UH faces in-state competition in the form of the Baylor Bears in the final round of tournament play on Saturday. Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the South Regional eased by Arkansas Monday 81-71. The Bears represent one of the Cougars' greatest challenges in the tournament.

While UH is a No. 2 seed, the most highly seeded team it has faced so far was No. 10 Rutgers. It is possible the Cougars could be the lowest seeded team in the Final Four if Gonzaga and Michigan win their Elite 8 games on Tuesday, which seems likely.

And while some sports memories may still haunt Houston sports fans, at least for now, they can be excited to watch their home town team get to the pinnacle of college basketball. It's long overdue. 
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke