Monday, March 19, 2018

Cougars miss Sweet Sixteen in heartbreaking fashion

The Cougars made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, won a game in the Big Dance for the first time since 1984, stood toe-to-toe with the higher-seeded Michigan Wolverines in their second-round game, and were five seconds from making their way to the Sweet Sixteen when this happened:

Slate's Nick Greene provides the details:
It took a desperation heave from a freshman, but the Michigan Wolverines have secured a ticket to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. They did so at the expense of the Houston Cougars, whose missed free throws down the stretch proved costly. Michigan ran a play to perfection after a pair of Cougar misses from the stripe, getting the ball into Jordan Poole’s hands with just enough time left for the freshman to launch the game-winning 3-pointer in the Wolverines’ 64-63 win.
The moral of the story: HIT. YOUR. DAMN. FREE. THROWS. Had the Cougars been able to hit their free throws late in the game, Michigan's three-pointer would have been meaningless.

As Jeff Balke notes, this loss brings back painful memories of the Cougars' ignominious last-second loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 National Championship, which was made possible by the fact that the Cougars couldn't sink their free throws to put the game on ice. However, as stinging as this loss is, it's not nearly as devastating: The Cougars were playing a higher-ranked and higher-rated team, and they weren't playing for a national title.

In fact, considering that the program has been struggling for so long and wasn't really expected to be more than mediocre this season, the fact that they got as far as they did is rather remarkable. Balke believes the future of the program is bright:
As upsetting as the loss was for the Cougars, UH has a lot to celebrate this season. For the first time in what seems like forever, they became a ranked program. They won a game in the tournament for the first time in over 30 years and it appears Sampson has the program moving in the right direction. 
The best way to deal with the sting of a loss like this one is to move on and get better. Recruiting season is right around the corner that this team has nowhere to go but up. For now, they'll have to spend their summers thinking about what might have been.
I agree; there's nothing the Coogs can do except shake this off and try again next year. The program is moving in the right direction, and next season they'll begin play in their new home. In spite of the tough loss, I'm optimistic about the basketball program's future. They just need to continue practicing those free throws.

Besides, it could be worse. At least the Cougars aren't Virginia. 

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