Shockers look for crucial victory over No. 6 Houston


Marshall Sunner

The Houston Cougars gather in a huddle prior to the game against Wichita State on Saturday inside Charles Koch Arena.

As Wichita State hosts Houston on Thursday night, the Shockers look for its first home victory against a team ranked No. 6 or higher since 1967. 

Houston has dominated the matchup since WSU joined the AAC, leading the series 6-1. The Cougars have won six consecutive matchups after the Shockers won the first game in 2017. Only two matchups have been hosted inside Charles Koch Arena in that time period and the teams have split those games.

The Shockers enter this matchup tied in the loss column with Houston and a victory on Thursday night would put WSU in first place by winning percentage. Interim Head Coach Isaac Brown said despite the magnitude of this matchup, the team is trying to take it day-by-day.

They’re just taking it game by game,” Brown said. “I think with all the articles and stuff they see in the paper (it creates excitement), but practice has always been very energetic, but it’s the next game on the schedule. I think those guys are excited that it’s the next game on the schedule. And we’ve just got to keep getting better and it’s going to be a tough game at home.

The two teams matched up earlier this season with Houston winning the game, 70-63. The Shockers took a ten-point lead in the second half but the Cougars’ 16-0 run was too much to overcome. In the loss, starting center Morris Udeze failed to score a single point. 

Brown said that after watching the film that getting the centers more involved will be a focus this time around. 

“Going back, watching the tape, we took three or four shots that were just in and out, and they came down and made some tough ones, but I felt that we settled for threes,” Brown said. “The ball never got to paint. So we’ve got to do a better job when we’re not making shots to try to throw it inside to Morris (Udeze) and (Isaiah) Poor Bear-Chandler, try to drive the basketball. We’ve got to get better shots.

The first meeting also featured some defensive struggles as Houston outscored WSU 45-32 in the final 20 minutes of play. 

On the defensive end, I thought we didn’t defend at a high level like we did in the first half,” Brown said. “They started to make shots. I felt like we turned it over. We’re not a team that turns it over a lot. During that stretch in the second half, we had four or five unforced turnovers.

Quinten Grimes was especially effective in the earlier meeting for Houston, as he scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. The former Kansas transfer is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game this season and is one of the candidates for AAC Player of the Year this season. 

Brown said that he expects junior Dexter Dennis to earn the defensive assignment on Grimes. 

“When Dexter’s in the game, he’s going to go at him the entire time,” he said. “Grimes is a high-level guy. He’s one of the best players in the league. And he got it going against us in the second half. So we’ve got to definitely do a better job on him, limit his touches. And we’ve got to make sure Dexter is guarding him 90 percent of the game.”

Just like they have throughout the season will head into this matchup WSU will be the underdogs against the No. 6 Cougars. Before the season started WSU was picked to finish in seventh place with no players selected to the all-conference teams. 

Brown said those aspects have motivated the players so far this season.

“That stuff motivates those kids, it gets them to play harder,” Brown said. “It gets them to buy in and it gets them to want to prove the point to everybody. So I definitely think the guys are playing with more confidence and they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they just want to go out and try to compete at a high level.”

The Shockers and Cougars will tip-off at Charles Koch Arena at 6 p.m on Thursday. The game will be aired live on ESPN2.