No. 10 Houston still looking to improve vs. South Carolina

NCAA Basketball

The Houston Cougars cracking the Top 10 in the national rankings might not quite be old hat, but it has become something of an expectation for all involved under veteran coach Kelvin Sampson.

The Cougars (3-0) followed comfortable home victories over Lamar and Boise State with an impressive 64-53 win against No. 14 Texas Tech on Sunday in Fort Worth, a result that catapulted Houston seven spots to No. 10 in the AP poll.

Houston will host South Carolina (1-1) on Saturday knowing what is required to maintain or improve its current standing after entering the Top 10 two seasons ago and remaining there for three weeks.

“I’ve had more than one team that was a 1-seed (in the NCAA Tournament),” Sampson said. “I’ve had more than one team that was Top 10 in the nation. We’ve been Top 10 since we’ve been here. That’s really irrelevant.

“The great thing about being Top 10 in the nation, what really that means is it’s great for our fans and it’s great for recruiting. That’s about it. It doesn’t change what I’m going to do in practice. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to work on rebounding. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to get in a stance and guard somebody. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be disciplined in certain areas.”

The Cougars continue to excel at rebounding and defensively, program tenets under Sampson. Houston held its first three opponents to 36.7 percent shooting while forcing 17.7 turnovers per game, numbers that would cause most coaches to boast. Sampson is hesitant to toot horns just yet.

“A lot of times, based on where you are, you’re either encouraging something or discouraging something,” Sampson said. “We’re not discouraging certain things enough. We’re evolving. We can get a lot better and we will.”

The Gamecocks, like many programs across the nation, stumbled out of the blocks without the benefit of exhibition games. South Carolina dropped its opener 78-62 to Liberty after shooting 39 percent while allowing 56.3 percent shooting on the defensive end.

“You think about professional sports,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “These are the guys that make $30-$40 million a year because they are the best at what they do. The first game out of the chute … they’re always nervous. There’s always a sense of enthusiasm, and that extra energy can drain you a little bit.

“People don’t like preseason games. But at the same time, having some of those exhibition games allows you to get your mind back to playing in front of cameras, with referees or umpires, with another team with different styles. It releases the anxiety that you have going into a year. It definitely affected us, but that’s no excuse. But it’s part of the journey.”

South Carolina rebounded to defeat Tulsa 69-58 on Sunday behind 20 points from Jermaine Couisnard and 17 from AJ Lawson. Now, with Houston on the horizon, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to show additional signs of improvement.

“We’ve got a great opportunity on Saturday,” Martin said. “It’s also a team that beat us last year. As a coach, there are certain teams that I go to bed at night and I’m excited because there are teams that are unbelievably well-coached and Houston is one of them.

“Exciting week, and excited for our guys.”

–Field Level Media

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