Houston Cougars remain confident on eve of Sweet 16 date with Arizona

UH, Arizona play late game Thursday in San Antonio

Houston 's Taze Moore (4) is hoisted by Kyler Edwards (11) as they celebrate a 68-53 win over Illinois in a college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – There is nothing quite like March Madness and for the UH Cougars - this is becoming a regular occurrence.

“Tickets have been through the roof,” UH Athletics Director Chris Pezman told KPRC-TV Sports Director Randy McIlvoy on Wednesday morning at the Cougars’ practice at AT&T Center in San Antonio.

“If we had the game being played in the Alamodome, we still wouldn’t have enough tickets for our fans,” Pezman said.

“I’ve been around sports my whole life,” he added. “You have these rare moments where things come together. We had an incredible run these last few years. We’re not done and we’ve got more to come.”

The Cougars proved last weekend they are worthy of being in the national title conversation. Now their ticket is punched to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio, yet they’ve arrived in an unfamiliar underdog role against favored and top-seeded Arizona Thursday night.

“We are always the underdog and it’s been that way since December,” said UH Senior Forward Fabian White on Wednesday. “I feel like our mentality is the same we’ve always had. Play with passion in every game, play harder than our opponent, play tougher than our opponent and at the end, just play to our culture we have here at UH.”

The Cougars are 31-5 this season despite losing experienced starters Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark back in November and December. Head Coach Kelvin Sampson says, despite those losses, it is a team game and, in the Cougars case, it’s the next man up.

“It was a blow, but we started off 9-0 and five of those were on the road,” Sampson said Wednesday in San Antonio. “Because we were down those two guys, we were just kind of in a cocoon and focused on the next game and the games after that, all while figuring out how we were going to navigate this.”

The Cougars not only have navigated through those tough times, but they have won big in the process. Now, they’re still dancing and chasing that dream of a national title. They hope to feed off of what should be a massive Cougars fan base on Thursday night against Arizona.

“Three-hour drive from home, and we’re expecting a big turnout, but we know Arizona has a big fan base and they show up well,” said forward Josh Carlton. “We’re expecting our fans to show up because that’s the big benefit to being so close to home and get that support and I believe we’ll have that.”