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WKU senior Taveion Hollingsworth (11) dunks the ball during the game against the Rice Owls on Feb. 13 in Diddle Arena.

As announced Feb. 21 the Hilltoppers will head to Houston to play the No. 12 Cougars in a late-season, non-conference matchup.

The game is possible because the Hilltoppers are multiple games below the NCAA maximum of 27, due to a postponed Conference USA series.

According to head coach Rick Stansbury the game has been up in the air the last few weeks. He said Associate Athletic Director Zach Greenwell has been messing with the game for the last couple of weeks.  

The Cougars (18-3), (12-3, AAC) are currently ranked No. 12 in the country after losing this past week to Wichita State 68-63, but rebounded against Cincinnati, winning 90-52.

As of Tuesday Houston is also one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation coming in second in the NCAA with 15 offensive rebounds per game. 

"I don't think there's a lot of takers that want to come to Houston right now," Stansbury said. "Opportunity wise we felt like there was more to gain than there is to lose." 

However, WKU has junior big man Charles Bassey back on the defensive side of the ball. He's third in nation with 3.22 blocks per game 

The Hilltoppers are 1-3 all-time against Houston. The teams last met in WKU’s 74-72 home loss on Feb. 9, 2010.

Houston is led by its experienced trio of guards: junior Quentin Grimes, sophomore Marcus Sasser and senior DeJon Jerreau. Combined, they account for 41 of the team’s average of 75 points a game. Its only ranked win of the year was a 64-53 victory against Texas Tech at the beginning of the season.

Like WKU, Houston had at least six games canceled or postponed this season.

The Hilltoppers and Cougars will square off Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in Houston. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

"Houston wouldn't have wanted us if they didn't feel like we were a quality team," Stansbury said. "We just have to go down and try and line up and try to fight and see what happens." 

The Hilltoppers will be playing in three games in five days from this Thursday to March 1. WKU will host Florida International this coming Sunday and Monday. 

"Tournaments are played three games in three days most of the time," Stansbury said. "I don't think fatigue is a major issue. Maybe game conditioning could be a factor, but fortunately we're home for those next two games."  

WKU (15-4), (8-2, C-USA) will then return home for the first of the final two series of the regular season. Florida International (9-15), (2-13, C-USA) will make its way to the Hill after splitting the series last year with WKU.

This year, the Panthers have had a rough season after starting 4-0. They currently sit at the bottom of the C-USA East standings and are five games below a .500 win percentage.

The only two victories FIU has in-conference came against Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee, winning both games by 10 or more points. Since the victory against the Blue

Raiders, FIU has lost 13 of its last 14 games, most recently losing to the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. Due to COVID-19 issues with Southern Miss, the two-game series was not completed.

As of Monday, it’s unknown if the Hilltoppers will play the Panthers, as they wait to see if the FIU program has any positive COVID cases after coming in contact with Southern Mississippi.

FIU is led by junior guard Antonio Daye, Jr. who averages 17 points with 4.7 assists and 2.4 steals a game. The two other players who average double- digit points are seniors Radshad Davis with 13 a game and Eric Lovett with 11 a game.

Despite losing several games, the Panthers have one of the best scoring offenses in the conference, putting up 71 points a game. Where they struggle is on the defensive end, as they have the worst defense in the conference. Though they average 71 points a game, they give up 75.5 a game to their opponents.

FIU sits at 10th in the conference in field goal percentage and allows teams to shoot 46% a game, the second worst in the conference. The Panthers are the lone team that defends the ball worse from behind the arc than WKU does.

Because WKU added the Houston game, the FIU series had to be pushed back. Both games take place in Diddle Arena with Sunday afternoon’s tip-off starting at 2 p.m. and Monday’s at noon. Both games will be broadcasted on ESPN+ and will also be broadcasted through WKU PBS.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at kaden.gaylord559@topper.wku.edu. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.

Kaden Gaylord is the men's basketball beat reporter for the College Heights Herald. He previously covered the softball team and women's volleyball team.