No. 6 Houston hopes to regain top form vs. Cincinnati

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The Houston Cougars have lost their grip on the top spot in the American Athletic Conference, and their top-10 ranking is likely to follow as well.

The Cougars (17-3, 11-3 AAC), one of the top defensive teams in the nation, allowed host Wichita State to hit 10 3-pointers during Thursday's 68-63 loss -- their second in their past three conference games. Wichita State now leads Houston by one game in the loss column for the conference lead.

No. 6 Houston will try to bounce back at home - where it is 11-0 this season - when it hosts Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.

The Bearcats (7-7, 5-4) have won four in a row -- all by one possession -- following a 25-day hiatus due to COVID-19 cases. They have been executing well on both ends in the closing moments of each game.

"Confidence is only gained through performance," Cincinnati coach John Brannen said. "I can't inject confidence in you. I can inject support and love. But your performance will ultimately lead to your confidence. And our guys are now understanding what it takes to be successful."

If the Cougars are to regain their identity, it must start inside. They were outrebounded 35-33 by Wichita State.

"They were just tougher than we were on the boards," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "I don't know how many times I've said that over the last six years. Not many. But they were tough."

DeJeon Jarreau led the Cougars with 16 points, Quentin Grimes finished with 13 and Justin Gorham added 10. But Houston let a 12-point first-half lead slip away

Cincinnati is not a good 3-point shooting team, connecting on only 28.6 percent of its attempts this season. But then again, neither were the Shockers before beating Houston as they entered the game shooting 32.3 percent from 3-point range, ranking 246th nationally.

"They made some tough shots," Sampson said. "I mean tough shots. And if you make 10 3-pointers at home, you're probably going to win."

The Bearcats edged UCF 69-68 at home on Sunday behind 14 points apiece from Keith Williams and David DeJulius. Williams also finished with eight rebounds. Mason Madsen was also clutch, hitting the go-ahead free throw with 2.1 seconds remaining.

"We weren't playing Cincinnati basketball (earlier in the year), and we weren't playing tough," DeJulius said. "We were playing individual basketball. We had to band together and really realize what kind of team we were on."

Williams leads the Bearcats, averaging 14.7 points per game, while DeJulius is averaging 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

Cincinnati lost a key contributor off the bench this week when sophomore guard Zach Harvey chose this week to opt out for the remainder of the season. Harvey was averaging 6.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game in his 12 games.

Houston received an unexpected boost when senior forward Fabian White, who was listed as a redshirt for this season, returned to action against Wichita State.

White, who tore his right ACL in May, has played 99 games including 52 starts, in his career with the Cougars.

Grimes leads Houston this season averaging 16.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Gorham is at 8.3 points and 9.9 rebounds, and Jarreau is averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 4.2 assists.

--Field Level Media