Indianapolis—Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is use to playing on the big stage and it looks like Houston has adapted their coach calm demeanor in the clutch.
It took years of building this program back to prominence, got recruits to buy in sprinkled with the right formula— it all led to this cinderella season for Sampson and the Cougars.
The Cougars is going back to the Final Four for the first time since the famed “Phi Slama Jama” era after Monday night’s 67-61 win against Oregon State.
“I always thought we could,” Sampson said, “but we had to climb the ladder.”
It was never supposed to be easy to get the second-seeded Cougars (28-3) back into the Final Four for the first time in 37 years, Sampson said.
Quentin Grimes hit a long trey from the top of the key with 3:21 left in the game to break a 55 tie. The Cougars made enough free throws late while ramping it up on defense and held the Beavers without a basket for 3 1/2 critical minutes.
The Cougars shot 29% after the break and 32% for the contest. Their defensive performance through the tournament has gotten Houston this far and there is no sign of them letting their foot off the gas pedal.
Marcus Sasser poured in 20 points to lead the Cougars while Grimes chipped in 18. But it was DeJon Jarreau— the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year who locked down Oregon State star Ethan Thompson— who was named the most outstanding player of the Midwest Region.
“This is one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve been around,” Sampson said. “And I have this group of players and this staff … to thank for it. I’m glad they let me go along on the ride with them. It’s been a fun ride with this group.”
Jarreau finished with 10 points, eight boards and eight assists two days and coming up a little short with another triple-double.
Maurice Calloo scored 13 points led the Beavers (20-13) and was trying to extend their postseason run for a team that was picked to finish last in the Pac-12. Oregon State fell to a 34-17 hole at the break, then climbed all the way back only to see Grimes catch fire in the second half.
“It was right there within our grasp with the effort we showed in the second half,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Really proud of this group. We got every single ounce out of them.”
This will be Houston’s first Final Four since Hakeem Olajuwon and coach Guy Lewis led the Cougars to the 1984 title game, in which they lost to Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas.
Oregon State were 14-12 to close the regular season before making an unexpected run to the Pac-12 Tournament title. That was likely their only path to an NCAA bid, and it opened the door for Tinkle’s team to throw a bit of mayhem into March in only its second tournament appearance since 1990. Oregon State regrouped by shooting 56% after halftime while committing just two second-half turnovers, but ultimately fell short of the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1963.
The Beavers (20-13) won the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time in program history to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. They defeated Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago in the Big Dance and re-energized a fan base with hard work, heart and hustle.
Thompson finished with 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting after averaging 20.3 points in the Beavers’ NCAA victories against Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago.
“This team is full of competitors and winners,” Thompson said, adding: “Tonight just wasn’t our night.”
The Cougars stuck to what got them here. They held the Beavers to 35% shooting in the first half before Oregon State found some openings. The Cougars finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage and a 19-7 edge on the offensive glass. It was part of the toughness that Sampson has demanded regardless of whether shots were falling. Sampson is in the Final Four for the second time; he took Oklahoma there in 2002.