INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (KTRK) -- The second-seeded University of Houston men's basketball team faces Syracuse Saturday after the Cougars slipped by 10th-seeded Rutgers.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson initially declined to talk about the prospect of facing the Orange, saying he wanted to enjoy his team's gritty comeback.
The Coogs' Quentin Grimes was one of the top recruits out of The Woodlands, Texas, in 2017 and had his pick of blueblood programs. The 6-foot-5 guard ended up at Kansas, where he started 36 games as a freshman.
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Grimes entered his name in the NBA draft after the season, but decided to return to school. Problem was, Jayhawks' coach Bill Self, assuming Grimes would remain in the draft, had already filled his scholarship.
The one-and-done in Lawrence worked out well for him and the Cougars.
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Thriving in Kelvin Sampson's free-flowing system, Grimes has the Cougars drumming up memories of the Phi Slama Jama days at Houston. He leads the Cougars with 18.1 points and has them on the cusp of their first Elite Eight appearance since 1984.
Houston is in its second straight Sweet 16, have the All-American Grimes and a coach in Sampson who once took Oklahoma to the Final Four.
"We're never going to just out-talent you, although we have talented kids. But we're 26-3," said Sampson, who also has led Washington State and Indiana to the tournament during his stellar if stormy coaching career.
Syracuse, who went on a late-season charge just to make the dance, have the hottest player left in Buddy Boeheim. His dad, Jim, has merely led the Orange to five Final Four appearances and a national title. All four schools still alive in the Midwest Region have cultures that form the foundation for their success. And they were laid down by coaches who have two things in common: They are frequently written off and they just keep winning.
"We've lost some games maybe we could have had back, but that's OK," Sampson said. "You're going to lose some games. We've won some games that without our culture we would have lost. Our kids believe in it. It's something to believe in."
Sampson pointed to a sense of purpose in his team that is making its fourth straight tournament appearance.
"Everything we do is all about memories. The victories and defeats," Sampson said. "That's why ABC's 'Wide World of Sports,' Jim McKay - the agony of defeat and thrill of victory. That is still what the tournament is all about."
Houston faces Syracuse at 8:55 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on TBS.
Associated Press Basketball Writers Dave Skretta and John Marshall contributed to this report.
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