Houston has had one of Conference USA’s top offenses in recent years. It’s made little difference against Memphis, though.
The 18th-ranked Tigers, playing dominant defense, look to earn their 49th straight conference win and shut down the Cougars for the eighth consecutive time on Saturday.
Houston (12-6, 3-2) is first in Conference USA in scoring with 78.4 points per game. The Cougars were ranked second last season, and third in 2006-07 and 2005-06.
Memphis (17-3, 6-0), however, has managed just fine against Houston in those years, allowing 63.4 points per game en route to winning seven straight meetings since a 66-53 loss on Feb. 5, 2005. The Cougars are shooting 35.8 percent from the field during that stretch.
This season, Houston has two players ranked among the top 10 scorers in Conference USA, with Kelvin Lewis averaging 20.1 points and Aubrey Coleman posting 18.1.
Still, the Tigers again seem primed to stop the Cougars.
Memphis ranks second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 60.9 points a contest. During an 11-game winning streak, the Tigers have held opponents to 57.3 points per game.
Memphis wasn’t dominating on defense against East Carolina on Wednesday night, but had one of its most complete efforts of the season in an 85-64 win.
Freshman guard Tyreke Evans continued to impress for the Tigers, posting 18 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing one turnover. He’s averaging a team-high 16.7 points and 2.5 steals.
Antonio Anderson, one of three players averaging double figures in scoring for Memphis, had a big game. The senior guard had a season-high 26 points and added eight assists.
“Antonio did what he does,” coach John Calipari said. “He was pretty good.”
Anderson is averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 4.5 assists, giving the Tigers a veteran presence in the backcourt. Anderson, who shot 3-for-13 in his previous two games, went 9-for-13 against the Pirates to help Memphis shoot a season-best 54.8 percent (34-for-62).
Houston was without Coleman in its last contest and had its worst offensive game of the season, losing 62-55 to UTEP on Wednesday night.
Conference USA suspended Coleman one game for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy when he stepped on an Arizona player during a 96-90 overtime loss last Saturday. The junior guard, in his first season with Houston after transferring from Blinn junior college, is averaging 20.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in his last six games.
Lewis couldn’t pick up the slack with Coleman out, finishing with 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting. He had scored 29 points or more in three of his previous four games.
The junior guard has four points in two career contests versus Memphis.
The Cougars, losers of three of four, will need Coleman and Lewis to be on target to have any chance of upsetting the Tigers. Memphis leads the series 20-10, winning the last meeting 68-59 on Feb. 13.
“We have got to have tough practices,” Houston senior guard DaShaun Williams said. “We need to go back to the drawing board.”