When it comes to extending your season in the NCAA Tournament, teams need to have a player who can be the "the guy" in tough situations. Coaches constantly mention how these high-intensity contests are decided on five or six possessions, and often in order for a team to advance in March Madness it needs to know the go-to guy when its time to survive.
Houston found itself up against the ropes, at home, in the second half against UConn. The Huskies have had a disappointing season in relation to preseason expectations and no postseason plans beyond the American Athletic Conference Tournament. But on Sunday afternoon UConn gave Houston all it could handle, shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half and even taking a lead with less than six minutes left in the game.
But that's when Houston's go-to guy, senior guard Rob Gray, took over.
Gray finished with 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting and was named the Stihl "Cut Above the Rest" Player of the Game as Houston pulled away in the final five minutes for a 81-71 win. Afterwards he called the test from a hot-shooting UConn team the "perfect situation" to prepare the Cougars for the urgency of single-elimination tournament play.
"We've had a lot of home games and this game is more like a tournament game," Gray said. "It was great preparation for the two tournaments we will be in and we don't want to lose anymore."
The Cougars finished the regular season with a 24-6 record and are currently projected to land as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to Jerry Palm. Given Gray's offensive explosiveness and ability to take over a game, Houston has the potential to be this year's spoiler for a top-four seed expecting to survive the first weekend.
"The good players have another level to them," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game. "Rob was on the third or fourth floor today and then all of a sudden he jumped to the tenth floor. When he did that, the game changed for us."