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USF travels to No. 1 Houston for program's sixth meeting with a top … – USF Athletics

January 10, 2023
University of South Florida (7-9, 0-3 AAC) at No. 1 Houston (16-1, 4-0 AAC)
Wednesday, January 11 | 8 p.m. ET
VENUE: Fertitta Center | Houston, Texas
SERIES: Houston leads, 24-12
RADIO: 102.5 HD-2 The Strike

HOUSTON — It’s just a number. But this particular number — No. 1 — casts a formidable shadow over the other men’s basketball teams in the American Athletic Conference.
The USF Bulls (7-9, 0-3) will step into a Texas-sized challenge on Wednesday night when they face the top-ranked Houston Cougars (16-1, 4-0) at the Fertitta Center.
Coach Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have lost only against Alabama (71-65), while registering a 69-61 road victory at then-No. 2 Virginia on Dec. 17. The Cougars have roared to a solid start in the AAC, defeating Tulsa (89-50), UCF (71-65), SMU (87-53) and Cincinnati (72-59).
Meanwhile, Coach Brian Gregory‘s Bulls, who won seven of eight games after an 0-5 start, have stumbled in early AAC play. The Bulls were beaten against Memphis (93-86), Temple (68-64) and Wichita State (70-66) after leading with three minutes to play in each game and having a double-digit second-half lead in two of them.
“It’s still early in the season, but we’ve got to do better at closing out games,” USF senior Keyshawn Bryant said. “We have a good team, better than our record, but we need to show that.”
“I think we have the kind of team that can beat anybody in our conference,” said USF center Russel Tchewa, who has back-to-back double-doubles (20 points and 12 rebounds against Temple, 19 points and 10 rebounds against Wichita State).
But Houston is not your typical AAC team.
Sampson has restored a moribund Houston program into championship form, going 215-71 in nine seasons with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances (including the 2021 Final Four). The veteran Cougar lineup, led by guards Marcus Sasser (15.8 points per game) and Jamal Shead (7.5 points, 5.2 assists), has been complemented by 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman Jarace Walker (10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds).
“Kelvin has been successful wherever he has been,” Gregory said. “One trait he has is getting (great) players, then coaching them hard. Those guys know who they are and they play very disciplined to that style.
“Playing in our league, just because you win doesn’t mean you’re going to win the next time. And just because you lose doesn’t mean you can’t beat the next team. It’s a war every time out. We’ve got to go on the road and lay it all out there. We have to do the things we do well, stick to it and play hard for 40 minutes. We have nothing to lose.”
It’s the sixth time for USF men’s basketball to face a No. 1-ranked team.
On Dec. 12, 1981, the Bulls fell 75-39 at No. 1 North Carolina, when the Tar Heels (featuring a freshman named Michael Jordan) were en route to Dean Smith’s first national championship.
On Jan. 29, 2000, the Bulls were beaten 89-72 at No. 1 Cincinnati, when the Bearcats’ Final Four aspirations were eventually derailed by a broken leg to star Kenyon Martin. While playing in the Big East Conference, the Bulls had a pair of meetings against No. 1-ranked opponents just five weeks apart — a 75-62 defeat  No. 1 Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, 2009, then a 64-50 loss at No. 1 UConn on Feb. 21, 2009.
On Nov. 25, 2015, USF fell 84-63 against No. 1 Kentucky in a special event at Miami.
“I don’t know that it’s that big of a deal to play the No. 1 team,” Gregory said. “I don’t think our guys are thinking extra about that. Certainly, it’s big and historic if you can win. But Houston was good (last week) as the No. 2-ranked team.
“Every part of this season is a process and a different challenge. We’re looking to make progress every time out. We haven’t liked how we finished (recent games), so we have to get better there. Nobody has to remind us that Houston is a big-time team. We have to keep it simple, do what we do, play hard and compete.”

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