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Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was lauding the selflessness of Cougars senior guard DeJon Jarreau when he suddenly pivoted to acknowledge what Jarreau had accomplished individually.
In leading the seventh-ranked Cougars to a 77-52 victory over the Tulane Green Wave on Friday in Fort Worth, Jarreau recorded the school's first triple-double since Bo Outlaw achieved the feat 28 years ago. Jarreau posted 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead Houston into the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
The second-seeded Cougars (22-3) will face Memphis (16-7) on Saturday.
"That's special," Sampson said of the triple-double. "That's special. And that's not an easy team to get it against because they don't let you look good. Nobody looks very good against Tulane.
"The best player on that floor without a doubt was DeJon Jarreau."
The Cougars needed Jarreau and his heroics. The Green Wave mustered a valiant effort in the first half before Houston began to impose its will defensively and on the glass after the break.
After hanging around and entering the intermission down only four points, the Green Wave missed 19 of 27 shots in the second half while surrendering a minus-12 rebounding advantage.
Houston secured 13 offensive rebounds for the game, four apiece from Justin Gorham and Fabian White Jr.
"We're the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in America," Sampson said. "That's just what we expect."
Once they began to click, the Cougars proved too much for Tulane to handle. That it took Houston a while to get going proved relatively immaterial in the final analysis of the triumph.
When the Cougars needed an extra gear, they found it. And Jarreau was at the controls.
"We just started to play Cougar basketball," Jarreau said. "We came out a little slow and they just came off a game and had a lot of confidence. It's a credit to them. They came out ready.
"Once we just got home to what we do, the game changed."
Third-seeded Memphis will get a shot to avenge its buzzer-beating loss to the Cougars on Sunday. The Tigers had to claw past UCF 70-62 on Friday to secure a date opposite Houston.
Like the Cougars, the Tigers have gained renown for their ability to defend with vigor. Memphis limited UCF to 35.7 percent shooting, including 7 of 25 from behind the arc. The Tigers also posted a 43-34 advantage on the glass and recorded 11 steals to help offset their own wayward shooting.
"It's definitely a relief," Tigers forward DeAndre Williams said.
"We were able to have fun. We were getting stops, making huge plays. So in the heat of those moments, that's fun."
With the Tigers firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the victory over UCF was desperately needed. Memphis could use a win over Houston to further improve its tournament odds, with the victory in its conference tournament opener setting a necessary tone with the Cougars on deck.
"We have to be more strategic on when we take our chances," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. "I thought we did a good job of containing them and slowing them down, not letting them really get in transition. They did get some transition points early but not the entire game the way they want to play. They're so dynamic when they do that, so I think that we have to take just being smarter during the game instead of just running around out there."
--Field Level Media