Houston March Madness: No. 1 Cougars back on top after win vs. Memphis and Alabama loss

The UH-Memphis game on Sunday also set a Fertitta Center record for single-game attendance.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023
The Cougars men's basketball team reclaimed the No. 1 spot
The Houston Cougars men's basketball team reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for the third time this season.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Don't be quick to call the University of Houston's claim to No. 1 a battle of attrition.

After all, college basketball is as fluid and unpredictable as cryptocurrency.

But, yes, unlike crypto these days, head coach Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars men's basketball team are sustaining success and back on top Monday for the third time this season, putting the rest of the top teams on notice by sending this message: win your games or we'll take your spot.

Houston was No. 2 in last week's polling.

The Coogs (25-2) are on a seven-game win streak, including victories in the last week against SMU on the road and a big defense of home court against Memphis on Sunday.

UH took advantage of previously top-ranked Alabama's upset loss last Wednesday to Tennessee. That put them No. 2 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and Coaches' polls, right behind Houston, which was, in fact, the only top-three team in the last week to win.

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The two polls differ on No. 3 between two programs rising late in the season: Kansas takes is third in the AP while UCLA notched No. 3 in the Coaches' poll.

"The makeup of this team is winners," Sampson said after Houston's 72-64 victory over Memphis. "These kids know how to win. ... Do they look great every night? I never thought it was a beauty contest. Last time I checked, you don't put an asterisk beside anything. Just go win the game. Can we play better? Absolutely. That wasn't our A-game tonight for sure."

Sampson speaks from experience, after leading his previous Oklahoma squad to a Final Four in which perfect play is needed for a deep March Madness run. Houston struggled from the three-point line against the Tigers, going three of 17 from beyond the arc.

Sampson counted on Marcus Sasser and surprise scoring threat J'Wan Roberts, who, like his teammate, scored 20 on Sunday.

Roberts' career-high was good enough to clinch a spot in this week's American Athletic Conference Honor Roll.

So what's left for a remarkably healthy Houston squad down the final two weeks of their final AAC season? Houston faces a big challenge when it hosts Tulane (17-7) on Wednesday. There's also a season-ending rematch in Memphis on March 5.

What's left for the Coogs?

ABC13 sister network ESPNU will air the Tulane game at 8 p.m. while ESPN2 picks up the Wichita State matchup at 6 p.m.

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament begins on March 14. Houston, at this point, is a likely No. 1 seed in the tourney, and they would likely begin their March Madness journey to NRG Stadium on either March 16 or 17.