Houston upsets Arizona, books trip to Elite Eight


Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The University of Houston Cougars (32-5) seeded fifth in the South Region upset the number one seeded University of Arizona Wildcats (33-3) in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship regional semifinal round. The Cougars rode a stifling defense and hot three-point shooting en route to the victory. 

Playing in front of a primarily Houston-favored crowd, the Cougars got off to an explosive start. The normally high-powered Wildcats offense was bothered early and often by the tough Cougars defense, and Houston jumped out to an early advantage, leading 14-4 early on. Arizona eventually got their feet back under them and cut the lead down to just four at 19-15 after a three-pointer from Arizona guard Justin Kier. Houston responded to hold the favorites at bay. With just over five minutes left in the half, Houston forward Josh Carlton got a layup to fall in the paint to push the Cougars’ lead to 10, their first double-digit lead since the early phases of the game. A controversial foul call at the buzzer allowed Arizona center Christian Koloko to go to the line with just 0.1 seconds left on the clock as Arizona cut the lead to 34-28 heading into halftime.

Coming out to start the second half, Arizona trimmed the lead down to just two at 37-35, but Houston’s Kyler Edwards answered with a three to grow the lead back to five. Later on, Arizona once again got within two after a three-pointer from Dalen Terry, but Houston responded with another three, this one from Jamal Shead. The three from Shead sparked a 12-2 run for the Cougars as they built up a 10-point lead midway through the second half. The lead hovered right on that 10-point threshold as the team battled down the stretch. Every basket Arizona made was met by one on the other end by Houston. Every defensive stop by Houston was answered with one from Arizona. Houston still led by 11 with just four minutes left in the game, making things appear dire for the Wildcats. Arizona continued to battle, and with just over two minutes left in the game, a layup from Terry cut the lead to 64-58 and set up a potentially tense finish. 

Houston saw to it that the finish would not be dramatic, however. Arizona had a chance to cut the lead even further after a steal, but Edwards stole the ball from Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin and buried a dagger three-pointer on the other end to give Houston a nine-point lead with just a minute and a half to go. Houston executed down the stretch at the free-throw line, and Arizona missed their last three three-point attempts to give Houston a 72-50 win as the Cougars knocked off the top-seeded Wildcats leading wire-to-wire. 

The Arizona offense, the third highest-scoring team in the country at 84 points per game, were out of sorts all game long against the strong Cougar defense. The Wildcats shot just 33% from the field and committed 14 turnovers during the game. Mathurin, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, put up 15 points in the game, but he was one of only three Wildcats in double figures for the game. Terry led the way for Arizona with 17 points and tied for the team lead with six rebounds and three assists. 

Meanwhile, Houston had outstanding contributions from Shead and Edwards. Shead had a game-high 21 points to go alongside his team-leading six assists. Edwards was just as electric, putting up 19 points and securing five rebounds. On the interior, the Cougars frontcourt of Carlton, Fabian White Jr. and Taze Moore gave the Wildcats troubles inside all night long. One major area where Houston surged ahead in this one was capitalizing on the Wildcats’ mistakes. Despite only forcing two more turnovers than the Wildcats did, the Cougars converted them into points at a much higher level, scoring 24 points off turnovers compared to Arizona’s six points.

The win sent Houston to their second consecutive Elite Eight appearance where they squared off against the University of Villanova. For Arizona, the loss brings an end to a season where they exceeded all expectations, winning the Pac-12’s regular season and tournament championships in head coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season at the helm.