GAME NOTES: The College Basketball Invitational will provide a Lone Star State showdown in the first round as the Texas Longhorns visit the Houston Cougars at Hofheinz Pavilion on Wednesday.
This will be the 35th all-time postseason appearance for Texas, but first in the CBI. The Longhorns had gone to 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments before this season's failure to do so. Coach Rick Barnes had his team playing at a very high level as it defeated Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU in a row, but the momentum faded as it fell,66-49, to Kansas State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. Texas's late season improvement came largely in part due to the return of Myck Kabongo, who has produced 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals per tilt in the nine games he has played this season.
The Longhorns are still one of the weaker offensive teams in the conference with just 65.7 ppg on 41.4 percent shooting from the field. The lack of offensive firepower was evident against Kansas State's stingy defense. Texas went just 17-of-50 from the field, including 5-of-19 from beyond the arc. It also committed three more turnovers (14) than assists (11). Kabongo had a poor showing as he netted just two points after being held without a make from the field.
Texas and Houston will meet for the first time in over 12 years. The last meeting was a 71-60 Longhorn victory on Dec. 20, 2000 in Houston. The Longhorns lead the series, 32-31, and have won five of the last seven games with the Cougars. The winner of this tilt will take on George Mason on March 25.
Houston built up some momentum heading into the postseason with three consecutive victories over Marshall, Rice and Tulane in its final three games. It parlayed that success into the C-USA tourney with a 72-67 win over Rice, although it nearly blew a 19-point lead as it allowed the Owls to tie it up in the second half. The Cougars then had their success erased as they lost, 80-69, in the quarterfinals to Texas-El Paso. Although inconsistent, James Dickey's Cougars are one of the most explosive teams in the NCAA as they are ranked 10th among Division I schools with 78.1 ppg and also place in the top 40 in rebounding (28th), assists (33th) and field-goal percentage (36th).
TaShawn Thomas recorded a double-double with a team-high 15 points and 11 rebounds for Houston in the loss to UTEP. Danuel House added 12 points and J.J. Thompson scored 11 off the bench, but the team shot only 41.8 percent fro the floor including an atrocious 2-of-11 clip from beyond the arc. Thomas ranks second on the team with 16.8 points per game but tops the Cougars with 9.5 rebounds per tilt. He is one of only two players to rank among the C-USA's top- five leaders in both categories. Joseph Young leads Houston and ranks second in the conference with 17.9 points per game. The Houston native has scored at least 20 points in six of his last eight games and was named to the All-Conference USA Third Team.
Houston is one of the nation's youngest teams, which explains the inconsistencies all season long. Texas has been up-and-down as well, but the extra practice time with Kabongo should have a positive effect and help the Longhorns move on in this event.