Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson Gives His Best 'Roll Tide' Before Road Game Vs. 'War Eagle'

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - If one must be in a Tigers' den, growl like one.

No. 1 seed Houston (32-3) has been ranked No. 1 in the nation this season and has the top NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking with a 7-2 record against Quadrant 1 opponents, who are the highest rated. And the Cougars are 8-0 against Quad 2 foes.

Not bad, right?


But the NCAA sent Houston to Birmingham, which is only two hours from the No. 9 seed Auburn Tigers (21-12), who have a No. 32 NET ranking. The Tigers are 5-9 against Quad 1 opponents, but they get a home game tonight.

Houston and Auburn tip off at 7:10 p.m. on TBS here at sold-out Legacy Arena (17,654 capacity. Each won first round games Thursday over 16 seed Northern Kentucky and 8 seed Iowa, respectively.

"Maybe, we should've been a nine seed," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said sarcastically after the NCAA Tournament gave a No. 1 seed a virtual road game in the second round.

"I'm done talking about whether it's fair or not fair," Sampson said Friday. "That's neither here nor there for me anymore. It's for me to say anyway. It's not Auburn's fault. They didn't aske to be seeded here."

Houston Can Play In The Final Four At Home

And if Houston does advance to Kansas City for the Sweet 16 to play on Thursday against the winner of Sunday's game between 8 seed Miami and 4 seed Indiana and reaches the Final Four, that will be in Houston. So there's that.

No. 1 overall seed Alabama (30-5) is a heavy favorite to reach the Final Four. The Tide is also in town - just 50 miles away from campus. Alabama plays 8 seed Maryland (22-12) in the second game tonight (9:40 p.m., TBS). So many of the Tide fans will be in Legacy Arena to watch Auburn-Houston. The Auburn-Houston winner and Alabama could meet in the national championship game on April 3 in Houston.

So, Sampson has a new strategy.

"We're playing Auburn. We need some help," he said. "Roll Tide. How do you say, 'Roll Tide?' Roll Tide. Yeah. That good enough? Well, Roll Tide. I don't think I have to go much further than that. That's pretty good."

Kelvin Sampson Requests Help From Wimp Sanderson

Sampson has more strategy. The most popular coach in Alabama basketball history remains Wimp Sanderson, though present coach Nate Oats has the Tide rolling. Sanderson took Alabama to 10 NCAA Tournaments and six Sweet 16s from 1982-92.

"I'm going to call my old buddy Wimp. 'Wimp, get them fired up,'" Sampson said.

Or he could have packed a plaid sport coat, which Sanderson made famous.

"I've known Wimp a long time. He still doesn't know how to pronounce my name. Every time I talk to Wimp, he says, 'Kevin.' Nope, nope, it's not Kevin. It's Kelvin. Wimp says, 'Eh, don't matter, Kevin.'"

Sampson has other issues besides visitors status. Two of his best players are limping. Senior guard Marcus Sasser (17.1 points a game) and junior point guard Jamal Shead (10.3 points, 5.4 assists) have groin and knee injuries, respectively. Sasser tried to play in the Cougars' win Thursday, but planted too hard on a play and took himself out after 14 minutes. He scored five points. Shead injured his knee in that game. He finished with 13 points and six assists.

Houston's Injured Players Plan On Playing

"I'm playing," Sasser said Friday. "I've been doing a lot of treatment and stretching and massages to get ready for the game."

Shead also said he will play.

"I'm good, 100 percent going," he said.

Sasser hopes his groin is as close or closer to 100 percent as the percentage of Auburn fans that will fill Legacy Arena.

"We think it is going to be probably 75 or 80 percent Auburn fans," he said.

"Ninety percent? I'm hoping it's just 90 percent," Sampson said as the audience laughed.

"We're just going to treat it like a road game," Sasser said. "It's us versus everybody."

Written by
Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests. A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention. Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.