No. 11 Houston brings winning streak to South Florida


Backcourt play has carried No. 11 Houston to the top spot in the American Athletic Conference.

Most recently, guard Marcus Sasser has done the heavy lifting for the Cougars (10-1, 5-1 AAC), who travel to Tampa to face South Florida on Thursday night.

The conference’s fifth-leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, Sasser started out hot Saturday against visiting Tulane, putting up 20 of his career-high 28 in the first half of Houston’s 71-50 victory.

The sophomore’s growth has helped propel the Cougars to a strong start.

As a freshman, the Red Oak, Texas, native averaged 8.1 points per game in 23.7 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent from the field.

He has improved this season by doubling his points, improving to 40.2 percent shooting — including 37.8 percent from 3-point range — and playing 32.1 minutes per contest.

“They were leaving me open a little bit, and coach (Kelvin Sampson) gives me confidence to shoot the ball,” said Sasser, who netted a career-high eight 3-pointers against the Green Wave. “Every time I shot it, it was going in. I feel like that was the hottest I’ve been.”

Tied for second in the AAC in scoring at 17.7 points per game, Quentin Grimes — Sasser’s backcourt mate — scored 14 points Saturday thanks largely to four 3-pointers. Houston connected on 15 of 36 long-range attempts (41.7 percent).

“I thought we did a good job of executing our stuff, moving it and finding Marcus,” Sampson said. “We’ve had some gifted shooters come through here over the years, and Marcus is right in that class with those guys.”

Houston is sporting a three-game winning streak — victories over SMU, Wichita State and Tulane — after losing 65-64 at Tulsa on Dec. 29.

South Florida (7-5, 3-3) has dropped three of its past five games, but it managed to produce a conference win on the road Saturday.

The Bulls trailed early in the second half at East Carolina but emerged with a 69-63 victory one week after defeating UCF. In between, USF fell 61-51 at home against Tulsa.

Top scorer David Collins led the way with 16 points against the Pirates, and Justin Brown and Alexis Yetna chipped in 12 and 10, respectively.

After taking tight losses against Wichita State and Memphis, USF has bounced back to take two of the past three.

The victory over UCF was the second in a row for USF in the series after the Knights won nine consecutive meetings between January 2016 and January 2020.

“After two tough losses — one-possession games — you want to get back to the winning track and play well and finish it out,” South Florida coach Brian Gregory said. “We lost to two really good teams … but they were winnable teams if you do a couple of things.”

Collins, who is averaging 12.3 points per game, was the high scorer in seven of the team’s 12 contests. He is averaging 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from the field.

–Field Level Media

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