WVU opens Big 12 play against nation’s top defensive team in No. 3 Houston

MORGANTOWN — The following is the list of teams that have reached 70 points in a game against No. 3 Houston this season:

No One University.

As in the Cougars (13-0) have built their elite resumé and will open up their first season in the Big 12 on Saturday armed with one of the best defenses in the country.

That’s the number-one challenge WVU (5-8) and head coach Josh Eilert will face in walking into the Fertitta Center, which will be in a Red Out in the stands.


“They have a very good defensive team, but some of it you have to look at who they are playing,” Eilert said. “Sometimes, as coaches, you separate those Power Five matchups and kind of filter out the rest of them when you analyze these things.

“Don’t get me wrong. They are an incredibly good defensive team.”

How good?

Houston is the only team in the nation allowing fewer than 50 points per game.

The Cougars are also tops in the Big 12 in holding opponents to just 34.5% shooting and are second in the conference in forcing 18.4 turnovers per game.

“They are a very physical team,” Eilert continued. “If you look at the numbers and look at points off turnovers and second-chance points, it’s like 37 points a game between those two categories.”

It’s definitely a workmanlike approach Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has brought, a change of identity of sorts from the Phi Slama Jama days of the 1980s, when Houston was led by the likes of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

“Coach Sampson has said before about us being one of the best defensive teams he’s ever had,” Houston guard Emanuel Sharp told PaperCity. “Especially when everybody’s firing on all cylinders, I think we can be the best defensive team.”

Sampson has used that defensive identity to rebuild Houston into a winner. The Cougars went to the Sweet 16 last season. Miami won that game 89-75, which represents the last time a team reached 70 against Houston.

Sampson’s last three years at the school have seen Houston average 31 wins per season, while going to the 2021 Final Four and the Elite Eight in 2022.

He’s built another winner this season behind Baylor transfer L.J. Cryer (16.9 points per game) and a lineup that starts three guards, but features five of them who all bring something different to the table.

The size comes from forwards J’wan Roberts (6-foot-7, 235) and freshman Joseph Tugler (6-7, 230), who are tasked with doing the dirty work.

Houston’s 70-66 win against Texas A&M this season, “Was one of the most physical games I’ve seen all year on film,” Eilert said. “Going into these games, you worry about how these games are going to be called. For us, that’s going to be critical.

“If they let things go early, and that’s the precedent they set, then it’s going to be to Houston’s benefit.”

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers are simply trying to get out of a funk. They won just two games in December, but WVU has been close against good teams.

An overtime loss against Ohio State, as well as defeats against Virginia and St. John’s, came by a combined 11 points.

Eilert said he views the Big 12 schedule as a “new season,” but how do the Mountaineers get over the hump in that new season?

“I think a lot of it is just closing out possessions,” Eilert said. “There are so many things we can control down the stretch, discipline things. Whether it be rebounding at the foul line or getting a big shot when you need one instead of a forced one.

“There’s a lot of things in the game of basketball. It’s a game of inches in so many ways. What you can control, you need to control.”


WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Fertitta Center, Houston
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)
WEB: dominionpost.com