Made in March: Houston’s Rob Gray leads Cougars into second round of NCAA Tournament

Rob Gray is playing good basketball.


Selena Favela

Rob Gray hit a game-winning layup to push the Cougars into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They’ll face No. 3 Michigan on Saturday.

WICHITA— Houston guard Rob Gray has Final Four aspirations.

No. 11 San Diego State put together a late three-point surge to put Gray’s aspirations in jeopardy. After trailing the entire second half, the Aztec’s cut the Cougar’s lead down to just three points. With a minute remaining, the Aztecs would hit a three from the top of the key to tie the game.

On the other end, Gray responded with a three-pointer from 5-feet beyond the arc. Trailing three, with the game on the line, SDSU responded with a miracle three-pointer.

With the game tied, Gray sealed the victory with a game-winning layup with 1 second left in regulation.

Gray scored 21 of Houston’s final 22 points.

“This is what I live for,” Gray said. “I wanted to give the city of Houston what they haven’t had since 1984.

“I’ve worked my whole life for this.”

The Cougars won 67-65. This was the Cougars first tournament victory since 1984, and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

“The difference tonight was we had Rob Gray and they didn’t,” Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson said.

Gray lead the No. 6 Houston Cougars into the second round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating the No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. They await the winner of No. 3 Michigan and No. 14 Montana. The winner of that game will advance to the regional semifinals.

Gray got off to a quick start. He scored 14 of his 39 points — a career-high — in the first half, which featured a 55 percent shooting percentage from the field, and 67 percent from deep.

Gray, a junior college transfer, spoke highly of his teammate’s will and determination.

“We aren’t any three- and four-star recruits,” he said. “We want this. We want this for us, for the city — this is our time.”

Houston, one of the smallest teams in the country, snagged 39 rebounds. Gray, who is 6-1, snagged five defensive rebounds in the first half and added 8 in the second half.

Gray finished with 28 points. Houston held a lead for the entire duration of the second half, despite the Aztecs cutting the deficit down to four points late in the final minutes.

To say Gray is catching fire at the right time would be an understatement. Gray led the Cougars past Wichita State, the No. 2 seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, with 33 points, and put the Cougars within striking distance of Cincinnati in the conference championship game. He’s topped 30 points in three of his last five games.