Houston Basketball: UH Cougars advance to Elite 8 in NCAA tournament after beating No. 1 Arizona

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson gritted his teeth and raised his arms before punching his left hand 11 times with his right fist while celebrating with adoring Cougars fans not too far from home were.

Another No. 1 is eliminated, and Houston is one win away from playing in its second straight Final Four after leading throughout Thursday night in a NCAA South Regional semifinal game with a 72-60 win over Arizona .

“I knew we were going to make them uncomfortable, we do,” Sampson said. “Our team, we’re a tough bunch. … They are not afraid of anyone.”

Jamal Shead, a 19-year-old sophomore, had a career-high 21 points and veteran guard Kyler Edwards had 19 points with five 3-pointers. They both played 38 minutes after Taze Moore found early trouble.

“We always feel like we’re the toughest team out there, and we play like that… we can’t be afraid of anyone,” Shead said. “The energy was just electrifying. It was great to have this kind of crowd here.”

Back-to-back layups by Dalen Terry put Arizona within 64-58 by just over two minutes. But Edwards, the Texas Tech signing who played for the Red Raiders in the 2019 national championship game, decided things for Houston with a 3 from the right wing.

The 5-seeded Cougars (32-5) play 5-seeded Villanova in the South Region Finals Saturday in San Antonio, about 200 miles from the Houston campus.

Terry had 17 points for Arizona (33-4), while Pac-12 Player of the Year Bennedict Mathurin had 15 and Christian Koloko 10.

“It was a tough game. There are many things we could have done better to win the game,” said Mathurin. “I don’t have much to say.”

American Athletic Conference champion Cougars became the second former Southwest Conference team to oust a No. 1 from that NCAA tournament in a matter of hours. Seeded Gonzaga lost 74-68 to Arkansas, who went to the SEC in 1991, five years before the SWC’s final season.

These Cougars are very different from those Sampson won in last year’s Final Four — her first since racing three times in a row during the Phi Slama Jama era of 1982-84.

Houston lost four starters from last season and then lost Marcus Sasser, the lone returnee and leading scorer who broke his left foot before Christmas. Sophomore guard Tramon Mark previously had a season-ending shoulder injury.

Arizona had one of the least experienced teams in Division I that season; According to, the Wildcats average 0.63 years of experience and rank 355th out of 358 teams. But they’ve won 33 games, and two of their losses have come during the regular season against top-20 teams.

Those 33 wins left Tommy Lloyd one win short of the most in NCAA history for a freshman coach. He took over the Wildcats after 21 seasons as an assistant coach to Mark Few at Gonzaga.

“I think we’ve built some really foundational pieces this year that will serve us really well. We are very proud of the boys. We’re very proud of the coaching staff,” said Lloyd. “We ran into a really good team tonight, it was just a bit too much for us.

Houston extended their lead to 10 points three times before halftime.

The Wildcats missed seven of their first eight shots and trailed by double figures for the first time after Houston scored seven points in a 57-second span for a 14-4 lead. That quick spurt included Shead getting a rebound to set up a fastbreak, which ended with his pass to Ramon Walker Jr. in the left corner for an open 3 and a propelled layup by Edwards after a turnover.

Moore, a college grad, had a career-high 21 points in Houston’s second-round win over Illinois, but his early 3 to 5-0 Houston win in the first two minutes was all he would score against the Wildcats. He committed his third personal foul with 9:22 left and only played 17 minutes in total.

“The guy who was really good for us, Taze Moore, wasn’t a factor. … Tonight he was in the witness protection program. I couldn’t find him. Nowhere,” Sampson said. “We put him in there, we had to get him right back out.”


Arizona was within 34-28 at halftime when Koloko made both free throws and a retest after a whistle when 0.6 seconds was set back on the clock. Sampson and the Cougars thought halftime was over and Mathurin thought he was fouled on the rebound from Koloko’s missed shot when the buzzer sounded, but the umpires ruled a foul on Koloko’s shot after watching the replay.


Arizona: The Wildcats took overtime to beat TCU in the second round, but they got off to a slow start and never recovered in the Sweet 16 game. They shot 33% (18 of 54) and had 14 turnovers that Houston converted to 24 points.

Houston: The Cougars have played in six regional finals in the past. They won every time to advance to the Final Four. With Arizona down just two points early in the second half, Edwards hit a 3-pointer. Terry hit a 3 a few minutes later to put the Wildcats back in a bucket, but Shead responded with another from long range.


Houston and Villanova have not played since the Cougars’ 79-49 win on November 23, 1991. The two teams have twice played in the NCAA tournament – Houston won in 1983 and Villanova won the tournament in 1981.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Houston Basketball: UH Cougars advance to Elite 8 in NCAA tournament after beating No. 1 Arizona

Dais Johnston

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