When No. 15 Houston returns home after an up-and-down showing and third-place finish at the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas to host Northwestern State on Tuesday, expect the Cougars to ramp up their already extreme intensity as if they have something to prove.
Houston (5-1) will have a bit of a chip on its shoulder after the mixed performance in the desert, the final game of which was a 78-49 romp over Oregon on Wednesday. That victory came after a 65-63 loss to Wisconsin in the tournament semifinals, when the Cougars began in a 13-0 hole only to fight back to have a chance to tie or win in their final possession.
There was no such drama in the surprisingly easy win over the Ducks. Houston got 15 points from Fabian White Jr., 14 from Marcus Sasser and 13 points from Josh Carlton, rolling to victory after leading by 22 points at halftime and by as many as 34 in the second half.
"In this profession, you got to have a short memory," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the Oregon game. "You got to move on. We played three games here. We played one half against Butler. We played one half against Wisconsin. Today we played two halves."
Houston forced 19 turnovers that led to 29 points in the win over Oregon, grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and had 40 points in the paint.
"(Against Wisconsin), we didn't play to our culture -- both halves," Sasser said after the win over Oregon. "Today, we tried to come out the first four minutes playing to our culture, being at a high level rebounding, moving the ball on offense and just as a team on defense."
The loss to Wisconsin is the only blip on the Cougars' resume. The setback was enough to drop Houston three spots in the latest AP Top 25 poll.
"What are our strengths, what are our weaknesses? We're still searching for that," Sampson said. "We don't have that yet. We're still in November. Still got December, January, February. I knew we were going to get nicked somewhere along the line. I just don't overreact to it."
Northwestern State (1-6) heads to Houston after a 72-68 home loss to former Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin on Sunday. The Demons have dropped four straight games and are 0-3 on the road this season.
Kendal Coleman led Northwestern State with 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the Sunday loss. Cedric Garrett added 13 points and Jalen King came off the bench to score 10 points for the Demons.
"It's a step in the right direction today because we competed really hard," Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said after the Stephen F. Austin game. "We had a couple of rough plays at the end of the game where we didn't meet the pass or didn't take care of it. But I'm really pleased with the effort, and we just have to battle back."
Northwestern State's six losses this year have come by an average of nearly 21 points, including a 47-point loss at SMU and a 30-point defeat to Louisiana-Monroe.
Coleman leads the Demons with averages of 16.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while hitting 61.1 percent of his shots from the floor. Brian White is tops for Northwestern State with four assists per game.
--Field Level Media