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Houston Looks To Stay Above .500, Sweep SMU

GAME NOTES: Tied for fifth place in the Conference USA standings, the SMU Mustangs will look to stay in the hunt as they head to Hofheinz Pavilion tonight for a date with the Houston Cougars.

The Mustangs have compiled a 6-4 league record and sit just 1.5 games behind C-USA leaders UTEP (7-2) and UAB (8-3). They are coming off a 67-57 loss at UTEP, which snapped a season-long five-game win streak.

Houston is coming off a 79-68 victory over last place Tulane. The victory halted a season-long five-game skid. The Cougars now sit a 4-6 in C-USA action.

With respect to the all-time series, tonight's matchup marks the 67th meeting between SMU and Houston. The Cougars currently hold a 43-23 lead over the Mustangs, which includes a 70-68 victory on Jan. 15th.

SMU is paced by sensational big man Papa Dia, who has claimed three C-USA Player of the Week Awards this season. He currently ranks fifth in the league in scoring (18 ppg), third in rebounding (8.9 rpg) and second in blocks (2.2 bpg). He leads the league and ranks 13th nationally in field goal percentage (59.1 percent). He has also excelled in C-USA play, averaging 19.7 ppg (No. 3 C-USA), 9.6 rebounds (No. 3) and 3.2 blocks (No. 1). Dia recorded his 11th double-double of the season against UTEP this past Saturday, but it wasn't enough, as the Mustangs fell 67-57. SMU is at its best when Dia's frontcourt mate, Robert Nyakundi, plays well. This was not the case against UTEP, as Nyakundi scored just four points on 1-of-5 shooting, grabbed just one rebound and committed four turnovers, in 34 minutes of play. The performance was a dramatic decrease form the forward's season averages of 15.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg, which both rank second on the team behind Dia. Behind these two productive big men, the Mustangs average 66.4 ppg, while limiting teams to just 61.8 ppg.

On Saturday, Houston came out of the gates rusty, and appeared to be headed for a sixth consecutive loss. The Cougars, having not taken the court in a week, saw Tulane score the first eight points of the game, before righting themselves with a 15-3 run during a five minute first half span. They never looked back, cruising to the eventual 79-68 decision. The Cougars shot 51.9 percent for the game, including 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from three-point rage, while placing five players in double figures. Zamal Nixon scored a team-high 17 points behind a strong effort from the charity stripe (11-of-11). Maurice McNeil led a bruising front line charge, posting a double-double of 15 points and 11 boards. On the whole, Houston outscored Tulane 34-20 in the paint. Alandise Harris was also effective in the trenches, scoring 11 points on 5- of-8 shooting, while Adam Brown and Kendrick Washington each added 10 points. The offensive outburst was beyond the norm, as the Cougars score 70.1 ppg on the year. Brown paces the squad at 13.9 ppg, while McNeil is nearly as effective, scoring 13.1 ppg. The Cougars have found consistent play a challenge, due to 68 ppg allowed on the defensive end.

Houston got the win earlier this season on the road. With this one taking place at the Hofheinz Pavilion, expect the Cougars to complete the season sweep.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 75, SMU 69

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.