The Houston Cougars are a team whose eight man rotation has a combined total of five years of Division 1 experience. On Friday evening, half of the Cougars who saw the court were playing in their first ever road game at the D1 level. There was certainly a learning curve for the young team, who struggled with Arkansas' full-court press at times, but they rallied from a first half deficit, took a lead, and withstood a fierce rally in a raucous atmosphere to improve to 3-0 with an 87-78 win.
After struggling with free throws for the first game and a half, Houston was 18-of-23 from the charity stripe on Friday. They out-rebounded Arkansas 38-27, and shot so well from the field (31-of-59 field goals) that they could survive 20 turnovers.
The Cougar inexperience certainly shows at times, but they're enormously talented, and they're incredibly fun to watch. You're guaranteed at least a couple of "Wow!" plays every time you watch them. Tonight it was Alandise Harris' monster put-back dunk, and a couple of big rejections by both Harris and freshman TaShawn Thomas.
Kirk Van Slyke had a second consecutive monster game off the bench, pacing the Coogs with 19 points in just 18 minutes of play. (He scored 18 in 18 minutes last game.) Van Slyke, the only multi-year letter-winner on Houston's team, has been much-maligned in his first two years on campus due to lack of inside presence despite his height, but that certainly hasn't been the case so far this year. He contributed 5 rebounds and a pair of blocks, as well, on Friday.
Harris finished with 18 points and 6 boards, Thomas chipped in 7 points and 10 rebounds, and Jonathon Simmons put in 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, to go with 7 rebounds. Freshman guard J.J. Thompson added 10 points off the bench.
The Coogs return home for four straight home games, beginning with Oakland on Tuesday. The Golden Grizzlies were an NCAA tournament team a year ago, but lost by 23 to Arkansas this week.