Arizona Wildcats had plenty to build off their regular season.
In the end, a top seeding couldn’t keep the Wildcats from exiting the tournament early — losing to fifth-seeded Houston, 72-60, in the Sweet Sixteen matchup Thursday night.
Houston channeled the glory days of Drexler and Olajuwon to come out with superior energy to the Wildcats, though Arizona had their chance to win the game.
Arizona was unable to muster the offense when shots weren’t falling for Houston. A near-six-minute scoring drought in the second half showcased the Wildcats’ carelessness with an offensive game plan and propensity for turnovers.
Guard Jamal Shead was the star of the night for Houston: scoring 21 points. Shead recorded four rebounds and six assists.
The Cougars defense was also deserving of the spotlight. Houston’s defense held Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis to 0-of-8 shooting, ending the night with three points and four turnovers.
Wildcats forward Bennedict Mathurin added 15 points but shot 5-of-13 from the field and 5-of-8 from the free-throw line.
Houston played composed, even in their slower stretches. Once a trip to the Elite Eight set in, the Cougars leaned on its electric tandem of Kyler Edwards and Jamal Shead, with great results.
The Wildcats fought a near double-digit deficit throughout the second half. Edwards stepped up and hit a dagger three to break Arizona’s momentum with two minutes to go. It was his fourth make from beyond the arc — yanking the lead out of the top seed’s reach.
“We just kept the course. We know they’re gonna hit big shots and hit big runs, so we just stayed together and kept playing,” said Kyler Edwards in the postgame interview. Edwards finished with 19 points.
Shead, the sophomore guard, was asked about the team’s secret recipe behind their big-time performance.
“Confidence. My teammates all put confidence in me,” Shead responded. “So much love going around, I wanna win for them. We don’t wanna go home yet.”
Keeping Houston together for the upset win was head coach Kelvin Sampson.
Sampson’s stellar run in this year’s tourney sets up the eight-year Cougar as one of the best coaches still dancing.
Houston will face two-seeded Villanova on Saturday.
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