No. 1 Houston draws its first ranked opponent when No. 8 Alabama visits Saturday.
The Cougars (9-0) are coming off a 76-42 win over visiting North Florida on Tuesday, while Alabama (7-1) knocked off visiting South Dakota State 78-65 on Saturday.
Houston and Alabama met last year in a game that was memorable for its controversial — and ugly — ending.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson apologized to Alabama after the then-No. 9 Crimson Tide’s 83-82 win that was secured in the final seconds when Alabama’s JD Davison blocked a ball near the rim as time expired. Sampson and the then-No. 13 Cougars felt goaltending should have been called and two points should have been awarded to Houston.
The play wasn’t reviewed and a Houston assistant coach and a player kicked chairs and knocked a trash can over as they exited the floor in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
This year, Houston and Alabama meet with both ranked in the top 10.
“I don’t think the teams care about storylines,” Sampson said. “(The media) care about storylines. I could care less. I wouldn’t care if we were ranked 350 and they were 340.”
The American Athletic Conference’s Houston and Southeastern Conference’s Alabama have played vastly different nonconference schedules.
The Cougars have an average margin of victory of 27.6 points. But just one of their wins is over a team from a major conference — a 66-56 victory over the Pac-12’s Oregon on Nov. 20.
Alabama has already played three ranked teams, having defeated then-No. 12 Michigan State 81-70, losing to then-No. 20 UConn 82-67, and beating then-No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in four overtimes. Alabama also hosts No. 18 Gonzaga on Dec. 17.
The Cougars dominated North Florida from the opening tip, opening the game on an 8-0 run and leading by 24 points at halftime and by as many as 35 in the second half.
Marcus Sasser scored 12 points in eight minutes before exiting the game with a cut above his left eye, but he’s expected to play on Saturday.
Five-star freshman Jarace Walker added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Ja’Vier Francis chipped in 14 points and four rebounds, and Tramon Mark finished with 10 points. Emanuel Sharp scored nine.
“The guy I was most pleased with was Jarace,” Sampson said. “Freshman usually don’t play major minutes here … Jarace has been knocked down this year, but he keeps getting up.”
Alabama also had a balanced scoring attack against South Dakota State, which led 53-51 with 10:43 left before the Crimson Tide countered with a 19-5 run to put the game away.
“I think a more mature group doesn’t have the defensive letdown we had,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “But we did show enough character after giving up the lead to get it back. I wouldn’t call them immature, but we’ve got some room to grow.”
Noah Clowney had a game-high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Mark Sears added 19 points, and Brandon Miller finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Jahvon Quinerly didn’t score, but he had a game-high seven assists to go along with five rebounds.
“Looks like their game plan was to leave Clowney open,” Oats said. “Made them pay.”
–Field Level Media