After a season-opening laugher, the Cougars had a tougher test when they faced a Utah Valley squad that returns four starters from the 19-win team that beat Oregon State a year ago. And while Houston could never quite put their feet on the Wolverines' throats, neither did they let them all the way back in the game down the stretch, as they held on for an 84-71 victory to improve to 2-0.
It looked like Houston might pull away before half, as a Joseph Young steal and breakaway dunk gave Houston a 40-26 lead. But UVU outscored the Coogs 11-3 to close the halftime deficit to just six points.
The Wolverines actually missed a three-point jumper that would have tied the game with 14:27 left in regulation, but Houston responded with 13 points on their next five possessions, including a trio of three pointers by Young, to take a 65-55 lead. Utah Valley wouldn't be able to cut the deficit to lower than seven points the rest of the way.
There were certainly areas to improve for the Cougars. The Wolverines played with more fire out of the gates, and to close the first half, and the Cougars gave up too many offensive rebounds (13), and played spotty interior defense.
But on the plus side, the free throw shooting was improved (29-of-37 on the night, despite missing their first three attempts), and junior forward Kirk Van Slyke - much maligned in years past for his lack of an inside presence, despite his height - had a monster game, crashing the boards and taking drawing a couple of over-the-back fouls on Utah Valley with good positioning down low. He ended up with 18 points (including a 10-of-11 night from the charity stripe) and 8 rebounds in just 18 minutes of play off the bench.
Sophomore Alandise Harris paced all scorers with 20 points, and led Houston with 9 rebounds. Young ended up with 19 points, to go with 5 rebounds and a pair of assists.
Next up for the Cougars is an even bigger test, as they head to the road to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Little Rock on Friday evening.