Expect the fur to fly when top-ranked Houston and dangerous Memphis square off for the American Athletic Conference Championship on Sunday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas. But the Cougars may have to battle their rival without the conference’s player of the year.
Marcus Sasser, Houston’s top scorer, went down with a groin injury in the first half and did not return. His status will be determined at game time on Sunday.
It’s the last time the teams will play as members of the AAC. The Cougars leave the league in July to join the Big 12.
Houston won the two regular-season games between the teams, including a 67-65 last-second victory in Memphis on March 5, but they have been slugfests.
Expect nothing less in the league title game, to which both teams advanced in blowout fashion via semifinal wins on Saturday. Houston (31-2), the top seed in this event, hammered fourth-seeded Cincinnati 69-48 while the second-seeded Tigers easily handled third-seeded Tulane 94-54.
Jamal Shead and J’Wan Roberts scored 16 points each and Jarace Walker added 13 points for Houston, which won its 13th straight. The Cougars led by 15 at halftime and were never challenged in the second half.
Houston held Cincinnati to just 25.5 percent shooting from the floor.
“It was important that we got up on our toes early and not having to play from behind,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I thought our defense was outstanding. I thought our discipline and our game plans were really good.”
Despite the dominating win, which puts the Cougars in line for their third straight AAC tournament title, most of the questions after the game centered on Sasser and what would happen if he couldn’t play on Sunday.
“Marcus came out the game and we still had teammates that we know come off the bench and come with that same energy. Just shows a lot about our team,” Roberts said. “We never get away from what we’re doing. We are just staying together.”
The Tigers (25-8) earned their spot in the finals in even more dominating fashion, getting 27 points and 11 rebounds from DeAndre Williams and 20 points from Kendric Davis in the 40-point victory over Tulane.
Memphis scored 37 of the final 44 points of the first half to take a 25-point lead at halftime and allowed Tulane to shoot just 25.8 percent from the floor.
The Tigers poured it on in the second half, producing their most lopsided win of the year. The victory gave the team the most wins since joining the AAC from Conference USA in 2013.
“Tulane swept us during the regular season, but we came back ready today and just proud of the performance,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “Couldn’t have dreamt this type of a win up. Because they are a really good team, but we put a good game plan together. And man, it was beautiful.”
It’s the second consecutive time the teams will play for the AAC title.
“Coach promised me championships in the tournament and everybody knows you have to get through Houston to get there,” said Davis, a Houston native. “This is what we dreamt of. When I first said I was coming here, this is the moment we dreamt of. So it’s going to be a dogfight. And we’ve just got to be ready. ”
–Field Level Media