Jarace Walker has seemingly set the learning curve aside and is now playing like a top-notch cog for one of the nation’s best college programs.
Walker aims to enjoy his fifth consecutive strong outing when No. 2 Houston hosts downtrodden Tulsa on Wednesday night in an American Athletic Conference affair.
The Cougars (22-2, 10-1 AAC) will be seeking their fifth straight victory while Tulsa (5-17, 1-10) is shooting for a major upset. The Golden Hurricane have lost four straight and 11 of their past 12 and are winless in eight true road games this season.
Houston rolled to an 89-50 victory over Tulsa on Dec. 28 in the first meeting. On that occasion, the 6-foot-8 Walker scored just six points in the middle contest of a three-game stretch in which he scored 12 total points on 4-of-16 shooting.
He has emerged from the slump to top 20 points in four of eight contests. That included a 23-point performance on Sunday when he was 4-for-5 from 3-point range as the Cougars netted an 81-65 road win over Temple.
Over the last four games, Walker is averaging 20 points on 30-for-51 shooting (58.8 percent) to raise his season scoring mark to 11.8 points per game.
“Jarace is starting to find his groove a little bit,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the win over Temple. “… Early in the year, he struggled.”
Walker reached double digits in scoring just five times in 15 appearances before his recent strong stretch. He had 23 points against St. Joseph’s in his second college game but also has scored four or fewer points on five occasions.
His top scoring output is 25 when he knocked down 10 of 14 shots in a 75-69 home victory over Cincinnati on Jan. 28.
Walker ranks second on the Cougars in both scoring and rebounding (6.4). Star guard Marcus Sasser averages a team-best 16.0 points while big man J’Wan Roberts collects 6.8 boards per game.
Roberts had 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in the earlier win over Tulsa. The Cougars have prevailed in nine of the past 11 meetings.
The Golden Hurricane have lost by double digits in all four games of their current slide. The skid includes a 26-point loss to Cincinnati (81-55) on Feb. 1.
Tulsa trailed by as many as 24 during Sunday’s 86-75 home loss to Wichita State before a late dash trimmed the margin of defeat.
“We can play harder, and that’s what we told our team,” Golden Hurricane coach Eric Konkol said afterward. “And that we can get after people better, and that we can show more resistance.
“We’ve got to be able to be more physical, too. We’ve got to put our chests on the ball.”
Tim Dalger stood out for Tulsa with career highs of 24 points and five 3-pointers. It was the first career 20-point outing for the junior forward, who raised his scoring average to 9.2.
Sam Griffin leads the Golden Hurricane in scoring average (15.6) and 3-pointers (55) while Bryant Selebangue contributes 12.5 points and a team-best 9.6 rebounds per game. Brandon Betson has connected on 47 treys while averaging 9.7 points.
The 50 points in the first matchup represents a season low for Tulsa. Houston has held nine foes to 50 or fewer and ranks third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 55.6 points per contest.
–Field Level Media