NCAA Basketball

No. 6 Houston aims to keep up momentum vs. Tulane

No. 6 Houston is strengthening its case for a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Tulane is just trying to get back on the court.

The two American Athletic Conference rivals meet Thursday night in New Orleans.

The Cougars (13-1, 8-1) moved up two spots in the Associated Press Top 25 this week after winning their sixth consecutive game, a 68-51 victory at Temple last Saturday.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said if his team continues to improve, seedings and everything else will take care of themselves.

"Our guys are improving in a lot of different areas, and it's just a matter of sticking with it," Sampson said. "It's about us getting better."

The Cougars held the Owls to 9-of-28 shooting as it opened a 36-21 halftime lead in a game that was hastily moved up from Feb. 8 in the wake of COVID-19-related postponements.

"I like the fact that we're starting these games off really defending," Sampson said.

Houston has continued to roll even after their leading scorer from last season and preseason AAC Player of the Year Caleb Mills decided to enter the transfer portal earlier this month.

Houston defeated the visiting Green Wave 71-50 on Jan. 9, taking a 12-point halftime lead and pulling away from there.

"We want to jump on (the opponent) the first half, go in the locker room and then do the same thing in the second half -- do it for 40 minutes and not just 20," said Justin Gorham, who Sampson called "our identity" because of his toughness.

Tulane (6-4, 1-4) hasn't played since Jan. 16, when it lost at home against Temple 65-57. Since then, the Green Wave have seen games against SMU and Tulsa postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.

Head coach Ron Hunter missed the last game because of quarantine due to contact tracing, but he's expected back on the bench against Houston.

Temple led by just two points at halftime, but Tulane missed its first 15 shots of the second half and the Owls took command.

"It definitely started to wear on us when every time we'd look up and we saw the same amount of points," said Sion James, whose season-high 13 points helped the Green Wave bench outscore the Temple bench 23-9. "Our defense is supposed to keep us up and for most of the game it did, but it doesn't really matter that much when you can't put the ball in the basket. It's taxing.

"I feel like we were getting OK looks, but they just weren't going down for us. We've got a lot of work to do on that side of the floor."

Tulane, which has no seniors, was outrebounded 48-32, but committed just five turnovers while forcing 14.

"We have to remember we've played 10 games as a new team," James said. "We were all thrown together in a weird season. Obviously, it won't be easy, but it's a problem a lot of teams in the country face. We just have to work through it."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 26, 2021

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