– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
HARTFORD, Conn. — All season long, the Houston Cougars basketball team has displayed its numerous Final Four-caliber traits, with a lockdown defense ending up being its calling card. On Thursday night, the Cougars needed their most overlooked aspect of their near-historic start to the season in continuing the march to a regular season championship almost 30 years in the making: their depth.
For a second consecutive game, reserve guard DeJon Jarreau provided a scoring punch, netting a season-high 18 points to go along with seven assists, as Houston’s bench was almost flawless in leading the Cougars to a 71-63 victory over the Connecticut Huskies at the XL Center, the team’s ninth consecutive victory.
Houston’s bench outscored Connecticut’s 42-9 and, combined, made 16 of its 20 shots from the field.
Jarreau’s previous season high came during Houston’s win last Sunday against Cincinnati in a battle of first-place teams in The American, as he scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 22 minutes, and he, along with his fellow reserves, once again infused energy into a Cougar lineup that needed it after stretches of sloppy play in the first half. Nine of Houston’s 13 made field goals in the first 20 minutes against the Huskies came from its bench, and while Jarreau just made two of his six attempts from the field in the half, he recorded assists on six Cougar baskets.
Houston took a slim 32-29 lead into intermission on the power of Jarreau’s three-pointer with 18 seconds left in the first half, and that perimeter shot was the impetus in Houston initially pulling away in the game as it went on a 17-4 run to begin the second half and open up a 49-33 lead.
Jarreau then came in off the bench and helped to salt the game away, making all four of his shots in the second half on his way to 12 points in final 20 minutes, most coming on drives to the basket.
Houston is now 11-1 in its first 12 league games and sitting one game ahead in the loss column of Cincinnati for first place in the AAC. The Cougars have not won a conference title since 1992, back when it competed in the defunct Southwest Conference.
Corey Davis, the Cougars’ leading scorer on the season at 15.3 per game, had 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting while second-leading scorer Armoni Brooks had 12 points, all coming from his four three-pointers made.
Connecticut (13-12, 4-8) continued to play shorthanded, as it lost a third consecutive game after guard Jalen Adams suffered a potential season-ending knee injury four games ago. Another guard, Alterique Gilbert, missed his fifth consecutive game with a shoulder injury.
Christian Vital led the Huskies with 15 points while Sidney Wilson had 12 as Connecticut, which cut Houston’s once 17-point lead to 61-56, could not cash in on its opportunities from the line, only making 14 of its 25 attempts from the charity stripe.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST senior photographer Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 33 pictures in total.