Purdue back at No. 1 in AP Top 25, Alabama right behind

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Purdue is back at No. 1 in the AP Top 25. Alabama is right behind the Boilermakers.

Purdue returned to the top spot in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, moving up two spots after Temple knocked off No. 1 Houston over the weekend. The Boilermakers received 39 first-place votes from a 62-person media panel after a volatile week where just two teams kept the same spot from a week ago.

Alabama climbed two spots to No. 2, picking up 23 first-place votes for its highest ranking since reaching No. 1 in 2002-03. Houston, Tennessee and Kansas State round out the top five.

Purdue (19-1, 8-1 Big Ten) had dropped to No. 3 after four weeks at No. 1 following a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3, but has since won six straight.

Alabama (17-2, 7-0 SEC) has made a steady climb since being ranked No. 20 in the preseason AP Top 25, moving into the top 10 in early December. The Crimson Tide had lopsided wins over Missouri and Vanderbilt after Darius Miles was dismissed from the team as he faces a murder charge in a fatal shooting near campus.

Alabama coach Nate Oats reached out to Ray Lewis before the Crimson Tide played Vanderbilt last week, sharing a Bible verse suggested by the Hall of Fame linebacker. Alabama ended up beating Vandy by 12 and rolled over Missouri by 21.

“I did see some guys break down postgame,” Oats said. “I think they’ve been bottling some stuff up. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to get to the game. We got to the game and took care of business, and then it’s almost like a big relief. The game’s over, and we can let out a sigh of relief.”

COUGARS FALL

Houston moved atop the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Phi Slama Jama of the 1980s earlier this season before a loss to Alabama dropped it back to No. 5.

The Cougars returned to No. 1 on Jan. 9, but their run ended after two weeks with Sunday’s 56-55 loss to Temple. The win was the Owls’ first over a No. 1 team since 2000.

BEATING KU

Kansas State moved up eight spots to No. 5 after outlasting rival Kansas 83-82 at Bramlage Coliseum last week. It’s the Wildcats’ highest ranking since reaching No. 3 in 2010-11.

TCU gave Kansas consecutive losses in the state for the first time since 1989 with a 23-point beatdown at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. It was one of Bill Self’s worst losses in 20 years as Kansas’ coach and ended the Jayhawks’ 16-game home winning streak.

The No. 14 Horned Frogs moved up three spots in this week’s poll after the win. Kansas, the defending national champion, dropped seven spots to No. 9.

BIG TEN BUMMER

While Purdue has remained near the top of the poll most of the season, the rest of the Big Ten has fallen off. With Rutgers dropping out, the Big Ten has just one AP Top 25 team for the first time since the Feb. 16, 2004, when No. 12 Wisconsin was the conference’s lone ranked team, according to Sportradar.

RISING/FALLING

Kansas State had the week’s biggest jump, followed by No. 4 Tennessee and No. 6 Arizona each climbing five spots. No. 21 Baylor moved up four spots with wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

Gonzaga had the biggest fall, losing eight places to No. 14 after Loyola Marymount ended the Zags’ 75-game home winning streak on Thursday. No. 13 Xavier dropped five spots after a one-point road loss to DePaul.

IN AND OUT

No. 22 Saint Mary’s is ranked for the first time this season after rolling over Pepperdine and Santa Clara last week. No. 25 New Mexico is back in the poll after beating San Jose State and outlasting Boise State in overtime.

A three-point loss to Michigan State knocked Rutgers out of the poll from No. 23. Arkansas dropped out from No. 25 following a loss to Missouri.

Sasser’s 23 points leads No. 1 Houston past Tulane, 80-60

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NEW ORLEANS – Once Houston coach Kelvin Sampson asked Marcus Sasser to pass a little less and look for his shot, the No. 1 Cougars were well on their way to turning what looked like a difficult road test into a comfortable victory.

“They were backing off of Marcus and Marcus was passing it, and I was going, `Marcus, shoot,”‘ Sampson said.

Sasser highlighted a 23-point performance with seven 3-pointers, and Houston defeated Tulane 80-60 on Tuesday night for the Cougars’ ninth straight victory.

Sampson “was telling me to do what I do best for the team,” said Sasser, who averages a team-leading 16.6 points per game and was coming off a 31-point night in his previous game against South Florida. “I felt like, first half I was being passive. … I just put my mind on being aggressive and trying to put the ball in the hole. I really just got rolling.”

J’Wan Roberts scored 15 and Jamal Shead added 14 points for Houston (18-1, 6-0 American Athletic Conference), which led for all but a 50-second span in the first half while preventing Tulane (12-6, 5-2) from taking over the top spot in the conference.

Jaylen Forbes scored 23 and Jalen Cook added 15 points for the Wave, which could not get closer than five points in the second half. When Sasser’s 3 with 3:28 made it 73-54, Tulane fans started filing out of an arena, which had been packed and loud for much of the game’s first 30 minutes.

“I saw it,” Sasser said of the fans heading for the exits. “It’s always a good feeling to do that. I feel like that’s kind of the dagger. It’s always good to hit those dagger shots like that.”

Tramon Mark added 12 points for Houston, which shot 55.4% and hit 12 of 24 3-point attempts.

“They are definitely the No. 1 team in the country,” Tulane coach Ron Hunter said of the Cougars. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and they are a talented team.”

Kevin Cross scored 12 for Tulane, which shot 40% and made just 6 of 26 from deep – a steep drop off in offensive production from the 88 points the Green Wave had averaged during its first six conference games.

The Cougars opened the second half with an 8-0 run fueled by Sasser’s 3 and his driving layup to take a 48-32 lead. Houston was still up 53-38 after Sasser’s step-back 3, but the Wave was briefly able to lock in defensively, forcing five straight Cougars misses during an 11-1 run.

“We showed fight,” Forbes said. “We didn’t just lay down to them.”

Forbes’ fourth 3 of the game capped the spurt and pulled Tulane to 54-49 before Houston’s Mark hit a pull-up in transition to stunt the Wave’s momentum and spark a 7-0 Cougars run highlighted by another Sasser 3.

“On the road, going into the game, we know how the crowd’s going to try to involve themselves in the game,” Mark said. “I think we handled it pretty well.”

The Cougars shot 57% in the first half and led by 12 when Shead hit a driving layup in the final minute of the half.

But Tulane ended the half on a high note. Forbes hit a 3 as he was fouled on the left wing with 4 seconds to go and completed the four-point play to pull the Wave to 40-32 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The game represented arguably the Cougars’ toughest test in conference play this season. Not only did the Green Wave come in trying to take over first place in the AAC, but Tulane’s cozy, 4,000-seat Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse was sold out days in advance, packed and loud. But the Cougars looked composed and well rested after not having played for six days. They kept a double-digit lead for much of the night and had a response for every Tulane run.

“I know that when we’re on our stuff, we’re a pretty good team and we’re hard to beat,” Shead said. “J’Wan brought it today, Marcus was electric, Tramon was electric. I didn’t expect (a 20-point win), but I’m happy with it.”

Tulane: The Green Wave might have its best team in years but has now lost 10 straight against Houston. Tulane will get its next shot to break its losing streak against the Cougars on Feb. 22 in Houston.

UP NEXT

Houston: Hosts Temple on Sunday.

Tulane: At Tulsa on Saturday night.

No. 3 Houston converts turnovers into 71-65 win over UCF

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

HOUSTON – Tramon Mark scored 19 points, Marcus Sasser had 18 points and No. 3 Houston held on for a 71-65 win over Central Florida on Saturday.

J’Wan Roberts added 12 points and Jamal Shead scored 11 points for Houston (14-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference). The Cougars shot 38%, including 6 of 19 on 3-pointers.

Houston forced 13 UCF turnovers and converted them into 20 points.

Darius Johnson had 17 points and eight rebounds, Ithiel Horton and Taylor Hendricks each scored 14 points and C.J. Kelly scored 11 points for the Knights (10-4, 1-1). UCF shot 39%, including 6 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Trailing by two with 7 1/2 minutes remaining, Houston went on an 8-0 streak to take a 60-54 lead with 5:42 remaining on a three-point play by Roberts, who scored all eight points on the run. The Knights responded with a 7-2 spurt to cut the lead to one on a free throw by Kelly with three minutes left.

After two free throws by Ja’Vier Francis increased Houston’s lead to three, Horton missed two 3-pointers and Sasser made 1 of 2 free throws with a minute left to put Houston up 65-61.

UCF turned the ball over on its next possession, and Shead hit two free throws to up the lead to six with 32 seconds remaining.

In the first half, following a jumper by Francis with 12:42 remaining, Johnson hooked Mark and threw him down in the paint. As Mark was trying to get up, Johnson pushed Mark down. Johnson was whistled for a flagrant one foul on the play.

The play fired up Mark, who scored 13 points during a 23-6 run over the next 6 1/2 minutes to give Houston a 32-18 lead. The Cougars led 39-31 at the half, but the Knights went on a 15-3 run to open up a 46-42 lead in the second with 15 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

UCF: The Knights missed a chance for a Quad 1 win and are 1-2 in Quad 1 opportunities this season. . All four of UCF’s losses this season have been by six points or less. . UCF was 17 of 20 from the free-throw line.

HOUSTON: The Cougars earned another Quad 2 victory and improved to 6-1 this season in Quad 1/Quad 2 games. . Houston started 11 of 20 shooting but followed it up shooting 13 of 44 for the rest of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Houston should at least hold at No. 3 but could rise to No. 2 following UConn’s loss.

UP NEXT

UCF: At East Carolina on Wednesday.

HOUSTON: Hosts SMU on Thursday.

Walker, defense lead No. 5 Houston past No. 2 Virginia 69-61

Getty Images
2 Comments

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Blowing a 15-point lead in the second half against No. 4 Alabama a week ago got the attention of No. 5 Houston’s players. Coach Kelvin Sampson made sure of it.

It may have helped the Cougars stymie a comeback by No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

Jarace Walker scored 17 points and Houston used runs in each half and the nation’s best scoring defense to beat the Cavaliers 69-61. The Cougars scored on three straight possessions after a steal and layup by Kihei Clark brought a sellout crowd clad in orange to its feet, exhorting Virginia to rely on its own defense to finish the comeback.

“I’m not sure we’re able to do that without the Alabama experience,” Sampson said.

After Clark pulled the Cavaliers within 54-48, Jamal Shead scored on a drive, Tramon Mark hit a 3-pointer and Walker made a tough fadeaway, keeping the Cavaliers at bay.

“Just keeping our composure when you get a big lead and just be mature and try not to go away from what we’ve been doing, which we did against Alabama,” J’Wan Roberts said. “We watch film and we learn. We grew from that.”

Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark each added 13 points for the Cougars (11-1), who used a 10-2 run early in the second half to open a 40-30 lead. Virginia (8-1), playing for the first time in 11 days, never got closer than six again, and each time the Cougars answered.

The Cavaliers shot 41.7% (20-48). Coach Tony Bennett said when shots aren’t falling, that makes the quality of play on the defensive end all the more important.

“Today they obviously took advantage of our breakdowns and scored,” Bennett said. “Today the tougher, sounder team on the defensive end won the game.”

Kadin Shedrick scored 16 points and Jayden Gardner had 13 for the Cavaliers, who were hoping to avenge a 67-47 loss last year on the Cougars’ home floor. Houston became the highest-ranked nonconference opponent ever to play Virginia in Charlottesville.

Clark’s steal and layup pulled Virginia within 56-50 with 2:55 to play, but Tramon Mark answered with a 3-pointer for the Cougars, who shot 49% (25-51) against a defense ranked 12th nationally, allowing 57.9 points.

The Cavaliers closed to within 30-28 on Gardner’s basket to open the second half, but the Cougars went on their run, with Walker contributing a three-point play and 3-pointer in the spurt, to lead 40-30.

Virginia scored the first nine points and led 15-7 before going cold. The Cougars outscored them 17-4 over more than 10 minutes to lead 26-19. Houston led 30-26 at halftime.

RARITY

The Cavaliers are the highest-ranked team Houston has faced during the regular season since it met No. 1 Memphis on Feb. 13, 2008.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cavaliers are likely to fall, but not very far, and Houston’s victory on the road is likely to make voters almost forget their 71-65 loss to Alabama a week ago when the Cougars were No. 1 and the Tide were ranked eighth.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars arrived with one player, Sasser (16.2), scoring in double figures but had five do it against the Cavaliers. Jamal Shead scored 11 and J’Wan Roberts had 10.

Virginia: The Cavaliers got guard Reece Beekman back after he suffered a hamstring injury in their previous game. Beekman was effective defensively but did not demonstrate the explosive power driving to the basket that typifies his offensive game.

“He didn’t quite have his burst. I thought he was pretty good defensively, not quite as explosive offensively and probably a little fatigued because he hasn’t done much,” Bennett said, adding that Beekman hardly has practiced since the injury.

UP NEXT

The Cougars return home to face McNeese on Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers go on the road to face No. 25 Miami on Tuesday night.

No. 8 Alabama mounts comeback, beats No. 1 Houston 71-65

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

HOUSTON – No. 8 Alabama could have called it a day when it was trailing by double-figures early in the second half.

The Crimson Tide didn’t, and earned another marquee win this season.

Alabama rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to stun No. 1 Houston 71-65 on Saturday, becoming just the second men’s team to beat two top-ranked teams in the same season.

Noah Clowney had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Jaden Bradley added 12 points and Mark Sears scored 11 points, including nine in the second half for the Crimson Tide (8-1). Alabama shot 50% from the field in the second half and 41% for the game. The Tide went 20 of 32 on free throws, including 15 of 21 in the second half.

“This is one of those character wins that shows that our guys are going to keep fighting no matter what the score is,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We could have easily given up down 15. The start of the second half wasn’t great. We made some changes with the bench guys. Hung in there, kept clawing away at the lead, finally able to take the lead and then we pulled away from them.”

The Crimson Tide beat North Carolina 103-101 in four overtimes on Nov. 27 and joins the 1990 Oklahoma team to take down two No. 1s in a season.

“Huge program win,” Oats said. “Not sure how many teams get the chance to play two No. 1 teams in nonconference, let alone beat them, but I think that shows where we’ve gotten this program to that we can play with anyone in the country at this point.”

Jamal Shead had 19 points and six rebounds, and Tramon Mark scored 10 points before fouling out with 8:10 remaining for Houston (9-1).

“That’s the No. 8 team in the nation,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “No shame losing to a really, really good Alabama team. Disappointing obviously. We haven’t lost a lot in this building.”

The Cougars shot 39% from the field, including going 1-of-8 to end the game. Houston was 3 of 13 on 3-pointers and 12 of 22 from the free-throw line.

“We just couldn’t guard,” Shead said. “We didn’t stand in front of the ball for like four or five straight possessions and that’s how they got back into it. And we just weren’t tough enough to finish it out.”

The game was tied at 63 following a Marcus Sasser free throw with two minutes left. Then Clowney put the Tide up by two with a layup with 1:12 remaining, Shead missed a jumper with 48 seconds left and Brandon Miller made two free throws five seconds later to push the lead to four.

After Reggie Chaney missed two free throws, Miller made two more free throws to give Alabama a 69-63 lead with 27 seconds remaining.

Trailing 57-49 with 8 1/2 remaining, the Tide went on an 11-3 run to cut the lead to 61-60 on a layup by Clowney with five minutes to go.

Houston used an 18-2 run to end the first half and start the second half to take a 44-29 lead with 17:13 remaining on a steal and layup by Jarace Walker, but Alabama responded with a 15-5 spurt to cut the led to five on a 3-pointer by Sears with 11 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: Alabama outrebounded Houston 44-39 and got 27 points from its bench. The Tide improved to 3-1 this season against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

Houston: The Cougars missed a chance for a resume-building win and fell to 1-1 this season against Quad 1 teams. Houston forced Alabama into 15 turnovers but turned it into only 18 points.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Houston, which has been No. 1 for two weeks, will likely fall in the AP Top 25 poll, while Alabama should rise.

UP NEXT

Alabama: Hosts Memphis on Tuesday.

Houston: Hosts North Carolina A&T on Tuesday.

Top-ranked Houston grinds out 53-48 win over Saint Mary’s

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

FORT WORTH, Texas – J’Wan Roberts scored 15 points, Marcus Sasser added 13 and top-ranked Houston held on to beat Saint Mary’s 53-48 on Saturday night.

The Cougars (8-0) won twice in their first week as the No. 1 team since the final poll of the 1982-83 regular season, when Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon led high-flying Phi Slama Jama.

Logan Johnson scored 17 points and Aidan Mahaney had 14 for the Gaels (6-3), who lost their third in a row following a 6-0 start.

Houston was the favorite to win it all in the second of three consecutive trips to the Final Four nearly 40 years ago, but lost to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in one of the iconic championship games.

Coach Kelvin Sampson’s first top-ranked team is coming off trips to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

For the third straight year, the postseason path will start at Dickie’s Arena, where Sampson likes to bring his team during the regular season as prep for the American Athletic Conference tourney.

This victory in the Battleground 2k22 series improved the Cougars to 9-0 in the arena near downtown Fort Worth, where they have won AAC tournament titles each of the past two years.

Saint Mary’s whittled a 12-point deficit to a single possession when Mahaney hit a 3, and he made it a three-point game again at 46-43 with another from long range.

Roberts answered by backing down for a short jump hook before Sasser converted a three-point play to put the Cougars up 51-43.

Houston broke a 17-all tie with a 14-3 run to finish the first half, with Saint Mary’s going 1 of 11 from the field in that stretch against the vaunted Cougars defense. Both teams shot 37%.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s: Facing the No. 1 team isn’t foreign to the Gaels, who play in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga. St. Mary’s is 2-7 against the Zags when they have the top ranking, with one of the victories coming last season.

Houston: The Cougars had no trouble in their debut with the No. 1 ranking, blowing out Norfolk State 100-52 at home Tuesday. A disciplined and tournament-tested opponent for the second game was just the threat Sampson’s club figured it could be.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s: Missouri State at home Wednesday.

Houston: North Florida at home Tuesday.