‘This loss stings right this moment’


INDIANAPOLIS – They stood collectively in a huddle on the finish of the bench in the course of the closing minute Saturday evening, the College of Houston’s beginning 5, arms wrapped round one another.

They cried.

They instructed every what a memorable season it was. How, in a school basketball season performed with the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, the Cougars stood tall as one of many final 4 groups remaining.

“We had an amazing run,” sophomore guard Marcus Sasser stated. “We simply fell quick.”

The very best season for the Cougars in 37 years got here to an finish with a 78-59 blowout loss to Baylor within the nationwide semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“This loss stings right this moment,” coach Kelvin Sampson stated after the Cougars’ first Last 4 look since 1984. “It would sting tomorrow. However we’ll get by way of this. Shedding within the Last 4 to one of many two greatest groups within the nation – we’re not going to hold our heads over that.”

Baylor (27-2) will play Gonzaga on Monday, searching for to change into simply the second Texas college to win a nationwide championship. Texas Western, now UTEP, beat Kentucky in 1966 for the one title by a faculty from the Lone Star State.

As Sampson started his post-game press convention, he talked about how 355 faculty basketball groups started the season with the identical purpose and a number of the similar roadblocks. He known as it “the hardest yr for any of us,” with video games postponed or known as resulting from COVID-19, quarantines, weekly testing, empty arenas and a three-week “bubble” in the course of the NCAA Match.

“You begin the season off as one in every of 355 hoping that you’re one in every of 68 (to make the NCAA Match),” Sampson stated. “Then you definitely go from 68 making an attempt to get to 32, 32 to 16, and in case you are actually, actually lucky and have a very good group you get from 16 to eight. And the identical factor, eight to 4. This group went from 355 to 4.”

Alongside the journey, the Cougars gained 28 video games and the American Athletic Convention event championship. They staged a comeback to beat Rutgers within the second spherical and solved Syracuse’s 2-3 zone within the Candy 16. They took the subsequent step by hanging on to beat Oregon State within the Elite Eight.

After dropping within the second spherical and Candy 16 within the earlier journeys, Sampson stated the Cougars wanted to “take the subsequent step.”

A Herculean problem waited Saturday. Baylor – within the Last 4 for the primary time since 1950 – has been on a collision course with Gonzaga all season, and the Bears did their half in a near-perfect opening 20 minutes.

Baylor was larger. Extra bodily. And, merely, couldn’t miss.

The Bears shot 57.1 p.c from the ground, together with 8-of-15 from 3-point vary, within the first half. Davion Mitchell hit a 3-pointer on the buzzer for a 45-20 halftime lead, the most important deficit at any level this season for UH.

Even with the nation’s prime 3-point protection, the Cougars entered the sport with the unimaginable problem of stopping the Bears’ gifted backcourt that included All-American guards Jared Butler and Mitchell. Butler (17) and Mitchell (12) did all their harm within the first half. The opposite members of Baylor’s deep guard rotation – Matthew Mayer (12), MaCio Teague (11) and Adam Flagler (seven) – mixed for 30 factors.

“That’s the perfect group I’ve seen within the seven years I’ve been at Houston,” Sampson stated.

UH (28-4) was making its first Last 4 look since three straight journeys by Phi Slama Jama in 1982-84. Any probability the Cougars had of one other journey to the title sport was passed by the 16:46 mark after Sasser’s 3-pointer gave UH an 8-6 lead. From there, Baylor went on a 16-3 run to take a double-digit lead and by no means let up. Butler had eight factors, together with back-to-back 3s, throughout an 11-0 run simply earlier than halftime. Baylor had eight of their 11 3s earlier than halftime, taking pictures 53.3 p.c from past the arc.

“(Assistant) coach (Alvin Brooks III) did an amazing job on the scout,” Baylor coach Scott Drew stated. “I feel we have been ready. And our guys actually did an amazing job shopping for into – locking in on assignments and tendencies.”

Sasser had 17 factors within the first half, together with 5 3s. The remainder of the Cougars went a mixed 1-of-15 for 3 factors. Quentin Grimes, UH’s All-American guard, went 0-for-5 within the first half and didn’t rating till two minutes into the second half. DeJon Jarreau was 1-for-7 with 5 turnovers.

UH struggled with two of its calling playing cards.  Defensively they couldn’t get stops, and the Bears held a 33-28 rebounding edge.

“We didn’t play effectively,” Sampson stated. “That group we performed had rather a lot to do with it.”

For UH, it was like bringing a water gun to a pistol combat. Like a 125-pounder within the heavyweight division. Or using a bicycle within the Indy 500.

The Cougars made up some floor within the second half, taking pictures 48.3 p.c, however by no means received nearer than 16 as Baylor by no means let up. Sasser had solely three factors within the second half. Grimes completed with 13 factors, all after halftime, on 4-of-12 taking pictures. Jarreau, who was named the Midwest Regional’s most excellent participant, had six factors on 3-of-10 taking pictures with 5 turnovers.

With lower than two minutes left, Sampson substituted Jarreau, part of UH’s rise the previous three seasons, from the sport. They hugged in entrance of the bench.

Then Grimes took a seat. After which Justin Gorham and Sasser with 50 seconds left.

“We’ll be again,” Sampson stated. He added: “The notion of our program has modified. And our program has modified. I am unable to wait to play in entrance of sellouts subsequent yr. That is going to be thrilling. However this group won’t ever be forgotten. They broke the bottom. They confirmed it may be performed. And now it is as much as these ensuing groups to stake their floor too. I’m wanting ahead to it.”

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