|3:00 PM PT4:00 PM MT5:00 PM CT6:00 PM ET11:00 PM GMT7:00 PM 北京时间4:00 PM MST6:00 PM EST, Jan 6, 2019
Fertitta Center, Houston, Texas Attendance: 7,039
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Memphis Tigers first-year coach Penny Hardaway is acutely aware of the challenge ahead. His relative inexperience working a collegiate bench and matching wits with his cohorts in the American Athletic Conference hasn't prevented Hardaway from thoroughly researching the opposition.
But Hardaway has a clear picture of what makes 19th-ranked Houston (14-0, 1-0) formidable. The Cougars, who host the Tigers (9-5, 1-0) on Sunday, remain one of four unbeaten teams and are riding a 27-game homecourt winning streak due largely to the identity they have established as one of the most ferocious defensive teams around.
"I do know that they are playing some exceptional basketball," Hardaway said of the Cougars. "First of all, they're getting after people; they're very tough. They're a very physical team and they hang their hat on their defense, but they also have some really good guards and scorers, and everybody stars in their role. Everybody understands who they are."
The Cougars pace the AAC and going into Sunday are ninth nationally in scoring defense (58.1 points per game) while ranking third in the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.8%). Their guards are integral, with seniors Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson Jr., and junior Armoni Brooks totaling 39.1 points per game. Brooks leads Houston in rebounding while Robinson averages a team-leading 5.4 assists per game. Davis ranks fourth nationally with a 94.3 free throw percentage.
The Cougars' defensive prowess has not only enabled them to overcome a series of slow offensive starts, but also it serves as the foundation undergirding their belief that no deficit is too great.
"We put so much emphasis on defense with rebounding and having a defined way we're going to win the game," Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said of their defense. "Our kids, when they walk out of that locker room and onto the court, whether it's in practice or games, they have a clear idea on how we're going to win.
"Our guys understand what our culture is and that's a very overused and misunderstood word. It gets thrown around a lot because people think it's just a word, but it's not, it's our DNA. The way we play is who we are, it's how we practice, how we prepare, and it's what we demand out of our kids on a daily basis."
In just 14 games under Hardaway, the Tigers have gradually established an identity as an offensive juggernaut, leading the AAC (and ranking 17th nationally) in scoring at 85.1 points per game while building a streak of shooting 50% or better in six of their last seven games. Memphis' scoring average through 14 games is its highest in the last 15 seasons.
Hardaway has made headway by maximizing his roster. Of the nine players averaging double figures in minutes, eight are freshmen or seniors. By ably blending players he inherited (seniors Kyvon Davenport and Jeremiah Martin are first and second in scoring) with future program stars (freshmen guards Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax), Hardaway has his alma mater rolling.
"The one thing we're not worried about is the offensive end because we feel like we have enough weapons to score," Hardaway said. "We've been focusing more on the defensive end and holding teams to a certain percentage and a certain number. Our offensive little woes that we have don't really worry me because I feel like we can turn it on at any time."
Updated January 5, 2019