The first few weeks of the college basketball season have shaped up nicely for No. 6 Houston.
For coach Kelvin Sampson, the best part might be that it could become even better for the Cougars.
“It’s so early in the season you can tell we have a newness to this team,” he said.
Houston meets visiting Montana on Friday afternoon.
The Cougars (6-0) are fresh off winning three games to capture first place in the Charleston Classic, which wrapped up Sunday night. Houston has won its first six games of the season for the second straight year.
“I thought our depth showed all the way through the tournament, being able to rotate our guys and our bigs,” Sampson said.
While there are moving parts in terms of roles for the Cougars, Sampson is comforted by having senior guard Jamal Shead.
“He knows how to play the way I want him to play,” Sampson said. “He knows the way the team should look.”
Montana (2-2) will face its highest-ranked opponent since a 2015 matchup with No. 2 Kansas. The Grizzlies are 1-22 all-time vs. Top 10 foes, last winning one of those matchups in 1982.
In order to excel, Montana coach Travis DeCuire is calling up a heightened level of intensity. The team has been off since a 78-69 home loss to North Dakota State on Nov. 16.
“Our discipline has got to get better, and our grit has got to get better,” DeCuire said. “It takes losses to watch on film and learn from those.”
Forward Laolu Oke of Montana will be tested in the post against a physical Houston team.
“You know he’s going to play hard,” DeCuire said.
LJ Cryer has given Houston a perimeter scoring presence, with the Baylor transfer averaging 15.8 points per game. He drained four of the team’s eight 3-point baskets in the Charleston Classic final against Dayton and he has 17 of the Cougars’ 49 3-point baskets for the season.
Sampson said it’s still a matter of mixing in newcomers with the team veterans. But he likes the culture that has developed as his team has won every game this season by a double-figure margin — including by 21 or more points in the first three home games.
“They know what winning is,” he said. “They have high standards.”
Houston defeated Towson and Utah in earlier rounds of the Charleston Classic.
Houston’s defense might be difficult to crack for Montana. The Grizzlies will covet ball security as they’re averaging fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
Montana is hoping for continued output from freshman Money Williams, who’s averaging 12.5 points per game.
“He’s going to score a lot of points in his career here, and hopefully a ton of them as a freshman,” DeCuire said.
Aanen Moody is averaging a team-best 18.3 points per game for Montana, which has alternated losses and wins — and keeping that trend would mean a huge upset Friday. Senior guard Brandon Whitney is 43 points away from reaching the 1,000-point mark for his career.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Montana and Houston.
–Field Level Media