Aftermath: Breaking down the Hilltoppers loss at No. 12 Houston

Senior Josh Anderson (4) talking with teammate Charles Bassey as WKU played at No. 12 Houston on Feb. 25, 2021. The Hilltoppers fell 81-57 to the Cougars prior to a four game homestand. 

Nick Kieser

WKU (15-5), (8-2, C-USA) lost 81-57 to No. 12 Houston (19-3), (12-3, AAC) last night. Now the Hilltoppers shift their focus to FIU who comes to Bowling Green on Monday and Sunday. 

Andy Yanez, the Sports Editor of The Cougar in Houston, Texas fielded questions from the Herald following the Thursday night showdown on ESPN 2.

Q: WKU came into Houston with the mentality of this was a big game for the exposure of WKU and a challenge this late in the season. What did you see from the Hilltoppers that impressed you, or what impression of WKU did you get? 

Yanez: I think that WKU showed it has the potential to be a headache team in the NCAA Tournament. WKU played UH well in the first half, without Bassey being much of a factor. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson after the game said that the Hilltoppers’ group of guards was the fastest they have faced all season. Taveion Hollingsworth had it going early and finished with a nice game overall. WKU proved it can be a pesky team, and if they get the right matchup, can cause serious trouble for other teams.

Q: Charles Bassey was a non-factor against the Cougars. He’s one of the best centers in the nation and struggled against Houston unlike any other team Bassey has played against this season. What did you see from Houston that kept him out of a dominant performance?

Yanez: The Cougars made it an emphasis to limit Bassey. They literally were going over how they were going to attack him before the game. Instead of an early morning shootaround, they went over how to defend Bassey. Justin Gorham for UH said after the game that they knew what he was capable of. Their plan was to bring the fight to him. Attack him, and make him have to work for everything, and they had a cycle of forwards to continue to defend him. They were fronting him to make passes to the post harder. UH definitely respected Bassey. It just showed how good UH is defensively.

Q: Now WKU sits at 15-5 before they wrap up Conference USA play in the next two weeks. Do you think you’ll see them make the NCAA March Madness bracket if they take care of business here in a few weeks? 

Yanez: Absolutely. I know Bassey didn’t play well tonight, but you don’t just average 18 points and 11 rebounds without being dominant and WKU showed they can be competitive even against one of the nation’s best teams during the first half. Sampson sees WKU as a 10 or 11 seed team in the NCAA Tournament. 

Q: Houston has the Wichita State loss most recently. Do you think this Houston team has been motivated by its losses this season and continued to bolster their case to be a top 10 team in the nation? 

Yanez: Yes. They feel like those losses have helped them get better. Sampson said postgame, after the Wichita State loss, they knew they had to focus on rebounding and pushing the pace. Since that loss, they’ve had two dominating wins. They want to continue this wave into the AAC and NCAA tournaments.

Q: One last thought. What excites you most about Houston? What do you think WKU is capable of if they make the NCAA Tournament? 

Yanez: The thing about Houston is that its style translates well wherever it plays. Sampson is going to have this team mentally prepared, and what they always focus on is rebounding and defending above everything else. I think the NCAA Tournament will pose a unique challenge with it all being in Indiana. Teams are going to have to be mentally strong as well as hitting on all cylinders at the right time to win it all this year in my opinion, and I think this season has prepared UH for that with the Covid pause and then the winter disaster. 

As for WKU, I can see them pulling off an upset. It all depends on the matchup, but I feel like if they get in, and whoever they draw, they will play a tight game. And they have one of the best players to rely on to close out games.

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.