Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Two teams hoping to improve their lot in the American Athletic Conference standings mix it up on Thursday night, as the Houston Cougars play host to the 21st-ranked Memphis Tigers.
Memphis comes into the contest sporting a 21-6 overall record, and the team is 10-4 in conference play. Currently sitting in fourth place in the AAC, the Tigers have an outside chance of finishing at the top, although they would have to win their remaining four games and hope the three teams ahead of them falter. Fortunately, they'll have their chance to play a role in that as following this tilt, Memphis will take on those three (Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU) to close out the regular season.
Houston posted eight wins during the non-conference portion of its schedule, but has just five victories in the 14 games played against AAC foes. The Cougars outlasted visiting UCF in their last outing, taking an 88-84 home win last Saturday to put the brakes on a brief two-game slide. UH has actually lost seven of its last nine, but it has been victorious in its last two home games, and sits at 10-4 at Hofheinz Pavilion this season.
These two teams got together in Memphis back on Jan. 23, and the Tigers used that opportunity to lambaste the Cougars in an 82-59 final. Memphis has won the last four meetings, and leads the all-time series by a 28-12 margin.
Memphis is one of the more potent offensive teams in the American Athletic Conference, as it averages 79.2 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .487 overall and .334 from 3-point range -- the former two figures ranking the team second. The Tigers have three players currently averaging double digits in the scoring column, and three others who net between 8.6 and 9.1 ppg. Joe Jackson leads the way with his 14.7 ppg to go with his club-high 128 assists, while Shaq Goodwin (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 50 blocked shots) and Michael Dixon, Jr. (11.6 ppg) are close behind. Geron Johnson (101 assists) also does his best to keep his teammates involved in the action. Defensively, the Tigers are permitting 69.7 ppg, with foes shooting 43 percent from the field and only 30.1 percent from beyond the arc. Memphis forces an average of 15.2 turnovers per outing, while logging a +3.1 rebounding margin.
The Tigers had to fight tooth and nail to get past Temple last weekend, putting five players in double figures as they survived in an 82-79 final in overtime. Goodwin led the way with 20 points, and Austin Nichols posted a double-double consisting of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Jackson nearly logged one himself, as he finished with 12 points and eight assists, as Memphis was credited with 21 assists on its 35 field goals. The team shot 57.4 percent from the floor, but missed 11 of its 14 3-point attempts, while the Owls drained 11 treys but committed 17 turnovers and shot just 40.5 percent from the field overall. The Tigers really struggled at the charity stripe (9- of-21), thus allowing the visitors to hang around longer than they may have otherwise.
With a record below .500 both overall and in conference, it's not surprising to see Houston giving up more points than it scores on average. The Cougars are netting 69.8 ppg while yielding 71.5 ppg, and they are also being outrebounded (-2.1) and are also in the black with regard to turnover margin (-1.1). They do however, narrowly outshoot the opposition (.451 to .440), and there are three double-digit scorers on the roster, led by TaShawn Thomas and his 15.7 ppg. Not just an offensive player, Thomas is also a force with his back to the basket, as he pulls down 8.4 rpg while also swatting away 77 shots. He also paces the team in steals with 35. Danuel House (13.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Jherrod Stiggers (10.3 ppg) and L.J. Rose (8.3 ppg, 5.2 apg) have also made solid contributions.
House went 4-of-6 from the field and a perfect 8-of-8 at the free-throw line en route to 18 points, and Stiggers came off the bench to tally 17 more to help push Houston past visiting UCF last weekend. Rose tacked on a dozen points and dished out seven assists, while Thomas finished with 11 points and four helpers. The team as a whole shot a lofty 58.3 percent, hitting a stellar 10-of-16 3-point tries, and a 22-14 edge in points the foul line certainly helped the overall cause. The Cougars were beaten on the glass (39-27), and while both teams were guilty of 16 turnovers, Houston scored 24 points off them, while UCF tallied only 14.