Myron MetcalfeESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
Kansas City, MO. — If someone asked Kelvin Sampson if a dream scenario for No. 1 seed Houston would play out in a Final Four matchup 10 miles from campus at NRG Arena, he wouldn’t entertain the idea. Instead, Sampson will tell the story of his first heartbreak during March Madness.
During the 1994 NCAA Tournament, Kelvin Sampson’s Washington State team was an 8-seed that lost to 9-seed Boston College and then made a run to the Elite Eight.
“If you play well [Friday], we’ve got a chance to win,” Sampson said Thursday. “If not, we’ll go home, that’s the way. This competition has not changed since its inception. That’s why you’re not ready for next week. You prepare for it logistically, but these games are hard to win, man.”
On Friday, Houston’s dream — the team wore “For the City” warm-up shirts throughout the postseason — to play for a national title at home ended in an 89-75 loss to Miami.
The Hurricanes overwhelmed Houston with their speed, controlling defense, explosiveness and 3-point shooting in the T-Mobile Center. Kansas State transfer Nigel Back led all scorers with 26 points as Miami made 11 of its first 22 shots against Houston.
It was the end of a tumultuous stretch for Houston. In the AAC tournament, Marcus Sasser suffered a groin injury that affected him for several games. Jamal Sheets suffered a knee injury in the team’s first-round win over Northern Kentucky and, according to the CBS broadcast, dealt with back issues in Friday’s loss to Miami.
Sampson said basketball helped him heal after his twin sister, Karen, died while coaching in the AAC tournament.
“I don’t want to make this about me,” Sampson said this week when asked about the impact her sister’s death has had on her ability to lead the team.
Sampson had a team that would produce a national champion. Entering Friday’s game, Houston had lost just one game since Jan. 22. Chaucer (14 points) and Tramon Mark (12 points), who missed most of last season due to injury, return with the return of Jarres Walker. The projected first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft helped the Cougars reload after losing four seniors from last year’s team, which lost to Villanova in the Elite Eight.
But the Hurricanes also had talent in their lineup. Isaiah Wong (17 points, six rebounds, three assists), who created matchup problems for Houston with his bounce, versatility and elusiveness, was the ACC Player of the Year. Pack was scouted last summer when he left Kansas State and reportedly received an $800,000 NIL contract attached to the move.
The Hurricanes have now reached the Elite Eight for the second year in a row. This year’s team accomplished the feat just hours after Miami’s women’s team upset Villanova and reached the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
Houston will head home a 17-minute drive from its campus after losing its shot at playing for a national championship.
As Sampson noted this week, winning games at this point is difficult.
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