After COVID-19 protocols prompted a postponement of its most recent American Athletic Conference contest, No. 11 Houston will return to the floor seeking to extend a three-game winning streak.
The Cougars hope to complete a two-game season sweep of visiting UCF on Sunday.
Entering the week ontop of the league standings, Houston (10-1, 5-1 AAC) was slated to face South Florida on Thursday. However, that matchup was scrapped due to coronavirus issues within the USF program.
The Cougars have not played since a 71-50 home rout of Tulane on Jan. 9. Marcus Sasser (16.3 points per game) put up a career-high 28 points and Quentin Grimes (17.7 ppg) scored 14, but Houston got things done on the defensive end of the court. The Cougars held the Green Wave to 28.8 percent shooting while producing a 48-26 advantage on the boards.
Since losing 65-64 at Tulsa to close out 2020, the Cougars have allowed an average of 57.7 points and 34.5 percent shooting while winning three consecutive contests by an average of 14 points. Though Houston has bounced back nicely from that defeat and established itself among the best teams in the nation, the squad is far from a polished unit -- at least from its own standpoint.
"We're getting much better," starting forward Brison Gresham said. "I still feel like we have a way higher calling. I think we should be 11-0. Defensively, I think we could get way better."
Sasser has averaged 18 points over the last five games for Houston.
While there's always room for improvement, UCF (3-4, 1-3) knows how well Houston can play defense. During their 63-54 home loss to the Cougars on Dec. 26, the Knights shot just 37.2 percent, including 2 of 13 from 3-point range, and committed 17 turnovers. Sasser had 19 points for Houston, which overcame a 36 percent shooting effort and a 38-28 rebounding disadvantage to beat UCF for the sixth time in the past seven meetings.
That setback was the first of three straight defeats for UCF, which fell 62-55 at Temple on Thursday. Darin Green Jr. (13.4 ppg) and Isaiah Adams (12.7 ppg) each scored 17 for the Knights, who shot a season-low 32.8 percent while playing their first game in 12 days.
As a team this season, UCF is shooting just 40.3 percent while averaging 64.6 points -- second-lowest in the AAC entering the weekend. It has not helped that the Knights have had to deal with COVID-19 interrupting their program this season.
"That hurts our chemistry," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "You're trying to get into a rhythm, into a flow, and it's just disjointed with the postponements and not playing. That's been difficult.
"We need to go out and compete and have some continuity. We've played two games since Dec. 26, and that's hard on everybody."
The Knights hope to have guard Darius Perry (11.8 ppg) back after he sat out the Thursday loss. Perry, who has played just four games this season after transferring from Louisville, scored 13 against Houston and 23 during UCF's 68-61 loss at South Florida on Jan. 2.
--Field Level Media