'We've got to settle in': New-look No. 12 Houston faces Wichita State
After Houston lost guards Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser to season-ending injuries just before the start of American Athletic Conference play, Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson acknowledged that the identity of his team would have to change given the attrition it suffered.
The 12th-ranked Cougars (13-2, 2-0) remained unbeaten in the conference without Mark (shoulder) and Sasser (foot) after defeating South Florida 83-66 Wednesday, but the victory required some rotation juggling.
With the backcourt gutted by the absences of two key cogs, Sampson and the Cougars must walk a tightrope to keep their promising season rolling.
Houston's next test will be at home Saturday against Wichita State.
"It's going to be like that the rest of the year," Sampson said. "I don't evaluate this team like the other team. We've got two teams here: We've got the 11-2 team and the 2-0 team. The 2-0 team has got to figure out as we go forward how we're going to approach certain things.
"We're all over the place right now, and we've got to settle in. We've got a game Saturday but we really need next week to get organized on some things. A lot of stuff is coming at us on the fly. Everything is just discombobulated. We've got to find a way to regroup Saturday morning against Wichita State and then find a way to get some rest and get organized next week."
In the interim, the Cougars can rely on a frontcourt with ample depth. Fabian White Jr. and Josh Carlton are able scorers, while Reggie Chaney provides defensive might and J'Wan Roberts adds muscle on the glass.
Carlton was exceptional against South Florida, pairing a career-high 30 points with 11 rebounds to pace a dominating interior performance alongside White (15 points).
"I knew Monday when we went to practice our offense would begin and end with us throwing that thing into Josh," Sampson said. "And his confidence has gotten better."
Wichita State (9-4, 0-1) will travel to Houston seeking to rebound from an 18-point home loss to Memphis last Saturday, during which the Shockers allowed a season-high-tying 82 points. Wichita State has labored at home, dropping games to Kansas State and North Texas as part of uneven nonconference performances.
The stakes are higher in conference play, and the foremost challenge facing the Shockers is to avoid allowing the unfavorable result against Memphis to influence their play against Houston.
"It's one game on the schedule," Shockers coach Isaac Brown said. "It hurt to lose that game. If we lost by one point on a half-court shot, would that make you feel any better? It wouldn't make me feel better. So I told those guys, sometimes that happens. A couple of years ago at Houston, I remember being down 38 points. That team battled back and finished the season well.
"So we've just got to do a good job of handling adversity. Don't let that one game decide our season. It's the first game in conference. Now we're going down to play a Houston team that's really good. We've got enough guys in the locker room to compete in the AAC at the top of this league. We've just got to start playing well."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 7, 2022