Houston finally had a moment to breathe in the days leading into their conference road tilt at Tulsa on Saturday, which was a welcome break after three games in seven days without guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark.
Then, less than five minutes following the tipoff against the Golden Hurricane,the Cougars lost guard Jamal Shead to a right ankle sprain. While Houston (15-2, 4-0 American) held on for a 66-64 victory that extended its winning streak to seven games, the Cougars did so with their three available scholarship guards logging heavy minutes.
"Our kids were on fumes in the second half," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We're just running out of bodies. Our thing is the Xs and Os, we're just trying to tape it together right now. We're just figuring it out. We've got to find a way to win with three guards."
With Shead and his team-leading 90 assists sidelined, Sampson distributed his backcourt minutes among Kyler Edwards (40 minutes), Taze Moore (37 minutes) and freshman Ramon Walker Jr. (31 minutes). He shifted forward Fabian White Jr. to the wing for stretches and will likely have to utilize a similar rotation when the No. 10 Cougars host South Florida (6-10, 1-3) on Tuesday.
Sampson typically starts a three-guard lineup. With only three guards available, he might have to alter that approach in order to alleviate the minutes workload. The Cougars do have four experienced big men at their disposal in Josh Carlton, Reggie Chaney, J'Wan Roberts and White, allowing Sampson some room to manipulate rotations. But the backcourt attrition is a concern.
The Cougars will likely turn to walk-on sophomore guard Ryan Elvin to help fill the void until Shead, who will be unavailable for an undetermined number of games, returns to the fold.
"It is what it is," Sampson said. "This is the hand we've been dealt. I don't think I've seen a year with injuries over an extended period of time like this. But we're 4-0 in the conference and the best thing about that is we have three road wins. I'm proud of our kids, proud of our program."
The Bulls completed a surprising, wire-to-wire 75-51 victory over UCF on Saturday. Javon Greene scored a season-high 19 points and was one of three Bulls to score in double figures alongside Caleb Murphy (13 points) and Jamir Chaplin (10).
Greene hit five of the Bulls' season-best eight 3-pointers and added nine rebounds with four steals. Murphy and Chaplin chipped in career highs in rebounds with seven and eight, respectively, to round out the balanced effort.
USF had dropped four consecutive games before pouncing on the Knights, including an 83-66 home loss to Houston on Jan. 5. But in recording its largest margin of victory over UCF since 2015, the Bulls moved to 6-3 when outrebounding an opponent this season, a key statistic with the glass-dominant Cougars next up on the schedule.
"We needed everybody," USF coach Brian Gregory said. "We had a lot of guys step up with us playing shorthanded, and guys answered the call."
--Field Level Media