Houston coach Kelvin Sampson called upon his past experience as an NBA assistant to frame the potential impact of senior forward Fabian White Jr.’s recent return to the Cougars’ rotation.
White will get another chance to impress on Sunday when No. 12 Houston plays host to South Florida.
Sampson likened the return of White to an NBA team acquiring an important piece at the trade deadline. An injury sidelined White, a three-year letterman, for the first 19 games, but with him back in the fold, the Cougars are that much stronger.
White had five points and two blocks in Houston’s 81-57 win over Western Kentucky on Thursday, his third game back. The 6-foot-8 senior forward is averaging six points, 3.7 rebounds and one block.
“It’s (like) making a trade for a key guy at the All-Star break that maybe can bolster you on the run toward the playoffs,” Sampson said. “We’re adding that guy to Justin Gorham, who’s one of the top three offensive rebounders in America. It can only make you better. I think the identity of our team comes from our frontcourt.”
The Cougars (19-3, 12-3 American Athletic Conference) are chasing the top seed at the league tournament. Houston remains locked in a battle with Wichita State atop the league standings, with its aspirations undergirded by greater health.
Houston had leaned heavily on Gorham (eight points, 9.5 rebounds per game) and Brison Gresham, both senior forwards, and has received a recent boost from junior forward Reggie Chaney, who has supplanted Gresham in the starting lineup. That veteran quartet is rugged and sets the foundation for the Cougars’ well-earned reputation for defensive might and rebounding prowess.
Sampson is gradually working White back into the rotation, with the hope that White will be up to speed by postseason play. After Sunday, the Cougars aren’t scheduled to play again until March 7 against Memphis. Sampson is hopeful that the program can add a game as it did with Western Kentucky as opposed to having a week-long break.
“We’ve been bitten a lot by these Sunday-to-Sunday games,” Sampson said. “I thought that (playing the Hilltoppers) was good for us … timing-wise and the quality of the opponent.”
South Florida (8-9, 4-7) endured seven consecutive postponements prior to its first meeting with the Cougars, an 82-65 home loss on Feb. 10. The Bulls have dropped four of their five games since resuming action, including a split of a back-to-back set against Temple this week.
Temple claimed the second game of the pair 65-47 on Wednesday in Tampa to snap a six-game skid.
The Bulls, after shooting 40.3 percent from the floor and 9 of 23 from behind the arc in their 83-76 win over the Owls on Feb. 21, shot just 28.8 percent overall while missing 13 of 20 3-point attempts in the rematch.
“Our defensive recoveries were not as good as they needed to be,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said. “And then when you don’t shoot the ball as well as you’re capable of shooting, it puts you in a tougher spot.”
–Field Level Media