KANSAS CITY, Missouri – It's been a long time coming. Try 35 years since the Houston Cougars played a game in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
The third-seeded Cougars face second-seeded Kentucky in Kansas City with a chance to advance to the Elite Eight.
Houston comes into the game at 33-3, while the Wildcats come in at 29-6, but with uncertainty regarding the health of star P.J. Washington.
Washington, who led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding, has an injured foot that will certainly keep him from being at full strength, and it isn't even known if he can play.
Head coach John Calipari indicated that even if Washington is available, he'd likely be on a minutes restriction.
Here are the keys to the game for the Coogs:
No letup due to Washington's injury
The Cougars can't have a sense of relaxation knowing that Washington might not be at his best or potentially even play. The good news on that front is the Cougars are such a hard-nosed, gritty, defensive-minded team that the scenario seems very unlikely.
Cougars' reserves do their jobs
The Cougars are among the deepest teams in the country. They rely on guys such as Deion Jarreau and Nate Hinton to bring energy and tempo, and obviously, offense. Jarreau has an uncanny knack of getting to the rim and is the most important penetrator on the team. The duo of Brison Greshom and Chris Harris could play big roles if foul trouble is an issue for starters Fabian White or Breaon Brady.
Make the free throws
The Cougars are not bad at shooting free throws, but they have had a handful of recent games that could present a real problem against Kentucky. Houston shot over 70 percent from the free-throw line overall this season. But three times in the last eight games, it has shot 61 percent or worse.
The team only lost three games this season, but two of those three losses came in that eight-game span, where poor free-throw shooting definitely played a role. The team nearly allowed a miracle Memphis comeback in the conference tournament when it missed 13 of its 27 free throws.