The UH NCAA Tourney Journey: getting there, being there and making it a habit

The UH Mens Basketball program had not been in the ranks since 2005 and had not seen the NCAA tournament since 2010. A program that struggled for years, captured the hearts of the entire city of Houston and captivated the eyes of people around the country.


“We are a humble team. We don’t think we’re God’s greatest gift to Earth.” 

Head Coach Kelvin Sampson realizes the efforts and successes of his current roster but never forgets where his program started.

Just a few years ago, there was no Guy V. Lewis Development Center, no new home arena on the way, and certainly not the recruiting caliber that the University of Houston has now. The journey to the American Athletic Conference Championship and finally the NCAA tournament rewrote Houston on the map in big, bold, red letters.


The team celebrates a final game at H&PE Arena to finish the season undefeated at home.

“I have never seen this type of cohesiveness in a team since I started watching the Cougars.” Josie Smith, a proud cougar fan since 1962, spoke about the exciting regular season for the mens team. “It feels like we finally got what we’ve been looking for all along.” As a fan of over 50 years, Smith has long awaiting for the spotlight to shine on the Cougars.


Before focusing in on the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars traveled to Orlando, Florida to face the Cincinnati Bearcats in the American Athletic Conference Championship. It was a brutal battle for the big win, but with an offensively slower than normal second-half, Cincinnati’s defense dominated and the Bearcats ended up getting the win by one point.

“Take the number away from the team. They are all good teams. It has everything to do with how we matchup with each one.”

Coach Sampson ignored the rankings and focused in on how the Cougars would size up individually against each team, no matter the number beside the name.


“We knew that since we were undersized that we should hit the other team in the mouth first. Be the aggressors and let everything else go from there.” Junior Guard, Galen Robinson spoke about their size being a factor that could be worked around.

Sizing up the opponent was important, literally. Size was the only weakness that the Cougars seemed to have against the teams moving forward.

After defeating the SDSU Aztecs 67-65 in the first round of the tournament, the Cougars stayed in Wichita, Kansas to take on their next opponent in the second round; Michigan. UH put up more of a fight that most people gave credit for, and the game all came down to a last second buzzer beater shot by Michigan.

It was a devastating loss for UH and the city of Houston but people around the nation caught a glimpse of what is to come of this mens basketball program.


UH Senior Guard,  Rob Gray hugs his little brother after a game.

“I feel as if this was just the first successful year of many more to come.” Robinson turned the loss into an inspiration. “The University of Houston will soon get to a point where making the NCAA tournament is the norm.” 

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