No. 1 Houston on its way to 5th AAC championship, but lose player of the year to non-contact injury

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Sunday, March 12, 2023
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jamal Shead had 16 points, and nine assists as top-ranked Houston advanced to its fifth American Athletic Conference championship game in a row with a 69-48 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, even after losing star guard Marcus Sasser to an injury.

The Cougars (31-2) led throughout, getting two second-chance layups from J'Wan Roberts in the opening minute of a game between two teams that are moving to the Big 12 next season. Roberts finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Sasser, the AAC player of the year who scored 30 points in Houston's quarterfinals win on Friday, crumpled with an apparent groin injury with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. The senior guard never returned after the non-contact injury, finishing with four points in nine minutes.

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Sasser was dribbling between the conference logo and the 3-point line when his right foot appeared to slip, throwing him off-balance before his left foot slipped as well, sending him into an awkward split.

Houston was up by eight points when Sasser got hurt and expanded its lead to 38-23 by halftime.

Landers Nolley II had 14 points for Cincinnati (21-12), which shot 25.5% (13 of 51) from the field.

A 3-pointer by Nolley with just over 15 minutes left the game had the Bearcats within 44-35 - the only time after halftime they were within single digits, and the last time.

Shead then had a jumper to start a 17-3 run. The junior guard had had seven points overall in the spurt that was capped by a free throw from Terrance Arceneaux for a 61-38 lead.

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Cincinnati: The Bearcats will miss the NCAA Tournament again, their last appearance being 2019, which was their ninth in a row. Just like in its quarterfinals game against East Carolina, Cincinnati was down 10 points less than seven minutes in against Houston. But there would be no comeback like Friday's 84-54 victory - their largest-ever winning margin in a conference tournament game. Instead, Cincinnati lost by more than 20 points for only the second time this season.

Houston: Even without Sasser, the Cougars bounced back from Friday's season-worst shooting game (28.1% overall, 16 of 57). They nearly doubled that in the semifinal game, shooting 50.9% (29 of 57). ... Houston is 11-0 in Dickies Arena and still hasn't lost away from home this season.


Houston: Plays in the AAC tournament championship game Sunday against Memphis or Tulane, with the winner getting the league's automatic NCAA bid. The Cougars are sure to be a No. 1 seed when the bracket is released Sunday, no matter what happens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.