No. 9 Houston visits UConn seeking ninth straight win
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The No. 9 Houston Cougars finally have a little breathing room atop the American Athletic Conference, thanks to an eight-game winning streak that has culminated with victories over their top challengers in the past three contests.
The Cougars (23-1, 10-1 AAC) look to protect their one-game lead in the conference when they travel to Hartford to take on the Connecticut Huskies (13-11, 4-7) on Thursday night. It's the first and only meeting between the schools this season.
Houston defeated then-No. 25 Cincinnati 65-58 on Sunday to break the tie atop the AAC. The Cougars knocked off third place UCF and fourth place Temple in the previous two games.
Those three power wins were good enough for the Cougars to move up three spots to No. 9 in the Top 25 poll, the first time Houston has cracked the top 10 since 1983-84.
"To win as many games as we have, you have to win so many different ways," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Huskies limp into the contest, losers of two straight and three of their past four. UConn is coming off a 78-71 loss at Memphis on Sunday, its first without leading scorer Jalen Adams, who suffered a knee injury in the Huskies' loss to Temple on Feb. 6.
The senior will be out four to six weeks.
"There's never a good loss or anything you feel good about when you walk out," UConn coach Dan Hurley said Sunday after the loss to Memphis. "It stings. It hurts. It's not something we're used to at the University of Connecticut.
"This is Year 1 of establishing a championship organization. So, before you're whole, before you have everything you need to climb ladders and cut down nets, you have to learn how to compete and fight."
Freshman guard Sidney Wilson got the start in place of Adams against Memphis, scoring 16 points in 36 minutes. Sophomore forward Tyler Polley scored a career-high 20 points in Adams' absence.
Junior guard Christian Vital is now the team's leading scorer at 14 points per game.
Trying to fill the void left by Adams gets demonstrably harder against Houston's vaunted defense.
Houston came out of the Cincinnati game tied for sixth in the country in scoring defense at 60.7 points per game, second in field-goal percentage defense (36.4 percent), and tied for third in perimeter defense, holding opponents to 27 percent shooting from 3-point range.
The Cougars are led by their superior backcourt.
Senior Corey Davis Jr. leads Houston in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Junior Armoni Brooks is second at 13.8 and leads the team in rebounds (6.4). Senior Galen Robinson Jr. (8.3 points) leads the team in assists (5.3).
Sophomore guard Dejon Jarreau (8.2 points) has given the team a boost off the bench in two of its past three games, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds and five assists against Cincinnati, after posting a double-double (14 points, 12 boards) against Temple.
"I don't know offensively if there's a constant with us. If there is a constant, it's that there is somebody that steps up," Sampson said after the Cincy win.
Houston is tied for first in the nation with eight games won by a margin of 9-12 points.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 13, 2019