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Western Kentucky riding 6-game win streak, visits No. 12 Houston

In their dispatching of the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sunday, the Houston Cougars played more like the team renowned for stifling defense, rebounding prowess and offensive balance.

It was no coincidence that the Cougars were more like themselves with a trying week finally behind them. Most of Texas came to a standstill last week after a winter storm left millions without power and water across the state, and the Houston metropolis was no exception.

Last Thursday, with most of the region just coming back online, the Cougars lost at home to Wichita State, a setback that followed consecutive postponements and, unsurprisingly, one in which the Cougars appeared flat. No. 12 Houston (18-3, 12-3 American Athletic Conference) will host Western Kentucky on Thursday at the Fertitta Center fresh off a timely, needed rebound.

“Last week was a tough week for everybody,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “All Texans. That was a rough week here in our state, especially in our city. There were kids not having power, not having water. The last thing we were worried about for a couple of days was playing basketball.

“We spent a little bit of time (Saturday) and (Sunday) morning and really focused. But this game (the victory over the Bearcats) was more about us. All respect to (Cincinnati coach) John (Brannen) and his program, but this game was all about us.”

Houston junior guard Quentin Grimes, named one of five finalists for the Jerry West Award presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate shooting guard, posted 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the Bearcats. While four other Cougars scored in double figures, it was Grimes who was the linchpin in what was a bounce-back offensive showing.

“The ball’s got to be in Quentin and Marcus’ (Sasser) hands more, and now that we have Fabian (White) back, his hands more,” Sampson said. “Friday, that’s what we worked on. I said here’s a set of actions we’re going to run for Quentin, a set of actions we’re going to run for Marcus, and when Fabian comes in we’re going to run this for him. Most of our stuff terminated with those three guys.

“Quentin also had eight defensive boards. When he’s playing with confidence the game comes easy to him because he’s such a good player.”

The Hilltoppers (15-4, 8-2 Conference USA) will carry a six-game winning streak into this recent addition to their schedule. Western Kentucky previously joined the Crossover Classic in South Dakota before adding a road game at Alabama earlier this season, both on short notice.

“These kinds of opportunities are something that we kind of cherish a little bit,” Hilltoppers coach Rick Stansbury said. “You don’t get a lot of them. Sometimes you’ve got to back into them every once in a while. It’s very obvious if you watched them Sunday you can understand why there aren’t a lot of takers to go to Houston Opportunity-wise, we just felt like there is a lot more to gain than there is to lose. As a coach, as a player, everybody else, you just want an opportunity to play against the best, and there’s no doubt they are one of the best teams in the country.

“It’s very obvious a great challenge for us, but at the same time a great opportunity.”

–Field Level Media

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