Men's Basketball Team Travels To UCF For Second-Place Showdown In Conference USA Standings

Feb. 27, 2007

Orlando, Fla. -

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After winning nine of its last 13 games, the University of Houston men's basketball team plays its final road game of the regular season when the Cougars travel to Orlando, Fla. and battle UCF in a Conference USA game on Feb. 28 at 6:30 (CST) at UCF Arena.

Both Houston and UCF enter the game tied for second place in the Conference USA standings with 9-5 league records.

The Cougars have a 15-13 overall record following a 77-64 loss at seventh-ranked and C-USA regular season champion Memphis in regionally-televised game on CBS last Sunday afternoon.

UCF enters the game with a 20-8 overall record after suffering a 66-64 overtime loss at Tulsa last Saturday. The Golden Knights have 13-1 record in home games this season, including a 5-1 mark in Conference USA home games. UCF's only home loss came against Memphis on Jan. 31. Since that loss, the Golden Knights have won their last three C-USA home games against Tulsa, Marshall and Southern Miss.

Houston enters the UCF game with a 3-4 record in Conference USA road games this season after suffering a 74-64 loss at Memphis last Sunday. It is the second straight road loss for the Cougars, who also fell, 74-69, at Southern Miss. Houston's last road win was a 64-49 triumph at SMU on Feb. 7.

Junior guard Robert McKiver ranks second among the league's scoring leaders with 18.9 points per game after recording his fourth 30-point game of the season at Memphis with 32 points against the Tigers. McKiver also ranks ninth among the league's assists leaders with 3.5 and 14th in free throw percentage with 73.2 percent (90-123).

Senior guard Oliver Lafayette is averaging 14.7 points per contest and ranks seventh among the C-USA's scoring leaders. He also is ranked eighth among C-USA rebounding leaders with a 6.1 average after grabbing nine rebounds at Memphis. Lafayette also leads C-USA in steals for the second straight season with 2.5 per game, and ranks eighth among C-USA free throw percentage leaders with 77.1 percent (84-109).

Senior forward Jahmar Thorpe is one of the top six field goal percentage and free throw percentage leaders in C-USA after making 53.5 percent (114-213) of his field goals and 77.8 percent (70-90) of his free throws this season. Thorpe also ranks seventh among C-USA rebounding leaders with a 6.2 average, and his 10.8 points per game ranks 22nd among league leaders.

Junior transfer Dion Dowell averages 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, which ranks 18th and 13th, respectively in C-USA. Lafayette ranks seventh among C-USA free throw shooters with 77.6 percent, leads the league in steals with 2.48 per game and is 13th in assists with a 3.3 average. McKiver ranks eighth in assists with a 3.6 average, and 15th in free throw percentage with 73.0 percent.

Houston enters Wednesday night's game with a 3-1 series record against UCF in a series that began last season when the Golden Knights joined Conference USA. UCF won the first meeting between the two schools, 66-56, in Houston on Jan. 14, 2006. The Cougars avenged that loss with a 78-71 victory in Orlando on Feb. 15, before beating the Golden Knights, 71-52, in the quarterfinals of the 2006 Conference USA Tournament. Earlier this season, Houston won a 73-70 overtime victory on Jan. 24 in Houston.

Robert McKiver poured in a career-best 36 points as the University of Houston men's basketball team charged back from a 20-point halftime deficit to claim a 73-70 overtime win on Jan. 24.

McKiver drained six three-point shots, and shot 11-of-19 from the floor in addition to hitting eight-of-his-nine free throws. He also passed out four assists against one turnover in 43 minutes of action.

Dion Dowell added 12 points for the Cougars, while Oliver Lafayette and Marcus Malone chipped in with nine points apiece. Each of Malone's treys came at critical times during the comeback.

The Cougars fell behind 35-15 in the opening half, but Houston fought back to out-score the Golden Knights 49-29 in the second stanza to force overtime. Houston started its charge after being down 47-25 with 12:24 to go but used a 15-5 spurt to trim the deficit down to 52-40 on a Lafayette three-ball with 8:25 on the clock.

The Cougars turned up the defensive pressure and got within six points at 60-54 after McKiver forced a turnover in the backcourt and converted on a three-point play at the 4:02 mark. Houston continued to climb the mountain as Malone provided a triple from the left baseline to bring the Cougars back to within one possession at 62-59 with 2:41 left to play.

A pair of Lavell Payne free throws gave UCF a 64-59 edge with 1:32 remaining, but Houston was not to be denied, using a pair of McKiver free throws to go along with another Malone triple with 43 seconds left to force overtime at 64-64.

Malone gave Houston the lead for good at 71-68 with another three-point shot from the left baseline with 43 seconds to go, while Lafayette hit a pair of clutch free throws with six seconds on the clock to secure the 73-70 win.

Payne paced three UCF players, notching a career-high 26 points, including a 13-for-17 effort from the charity stripe. Jermaine Taylor and Dave Noel added 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Golden Knights. UCF opened the game with a 16-8 lead at the 7:16 mark of the opening half and scored 19 of the final 26 points of the half to build a 35-15 intermission advantage. Payne and Noel combined for 23 of the 35 Golden Knight first half points.

UCF is led by a pair of senior forwards, Josh Peppers and Lavell Payne. Peppers leads the Golden Knights in scoring with 13.8 points per game, and is scoring at a 14.7 clip in Conference USA games. Payne is averaging 10.6 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with a 5.4 average. UCF also has one of Conference USA's top point guards in Mike O'Donnell. O'Donnell is averaging 10.3 points and 3.6 assists per contest. He has a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, and is shooting 43.8 percent from behind the three-point line.

The other starting guard is David Noel, who is averaging 9.4 points, three assists and is shooting 84 percent at the free throw line. Jermaine Taylor is averaging 13.1 points per game as UCF's sixth man, while shooting 42.3 percent behind the three-point line.

Houston's win over Tulane gave the Cougars nine C-USA wins this season. That ties a UH record for the most C-USA wins in a season with nine, and Houston has three games left to play this year.

This marks the third straight year that the Cougars have won nine league games under Tom Penders. The only other time that Houston registered nine C-USA wins was in 2001-02.

In fact, before Penders took over as head coach, Houston won just 36 C-USA games in its first eight years as a league member. The Cougars enter the Memphis game with 27 C-USA wins under Penders.

In addition to playing of of the 30 toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, Houston enters the UCF game as the only Conference USA team to play two games against each of the top four teams in the current C-USA standings. The Cougars have a 2-3 record against those other three teams. Houston was 0-2 against Memphis, 1-0 against UCF and 1-1 versus Rice.

Houston enters the UCF game with a 9-0 record when holding Conference USA opponents 70 points or less. When the Cougars have surrendered C-USA opponents over 70 points, they are 0-5. The Cougars gave up 77 points at Memphis, 74 points at Southern Miss and 79 points at UTEP in their last three road losses. Houston won held SMU to 59 points, Marshall 61 points and Tulsa to 67 points in its last three road wins. The only game in which Houston did not win when holding a team under 70 points was against South Alabama (66-61).

Houston's enters the UCF game with a 4-8 record in road games after suffering a 77-64 loss at Memphis and a 74-69 loss at Southern Miss in its last two road games. The loss at Southern Miss gives Houston a 3-3- record in Conference USA road games. UH beat SMU, 64-49, in Dallas on Feb. 7 after defeating Tulsa, 69-67, on Jan. 20, Marshall, 77-61, on Jan. 27. The Cougars suffered a 79-71 loss at UTEP on Feb. 3, and a 76-71 loss at Rice on Jan. 17.

The Cougars enter the UCF game leading Conference USA teams in turnover margin with an average difference of +5.43 per game. Houston is forcing 17.1 turnovers by its opponents, while averaging 11.7 turnovers per game. The 11.7 turnovers are the fewest turnovers by C-USA teams this year. The Cougars had just seven turnovers against Tulane and six turnovers at Southern Miss. Those two games mark the 10th and 11th times that the Cougars have had fewer than 10 turnovers.

This marks the third straight year the Cougars have ranked either first or second in Conference USA in turnover margin.

Houston ranked second nationally last season behind fellow C-USA member UAB last year after leading the nation in turnover margin two years ago. UH also ranks third among C-USA teams with 8.5 steals after leading the nation in that category with 12.4 steals last year.

The greatest area of Houston's improvement this season is free throw shooting. The Cougars are making 71.8 percent (371-517) of their free throws this season. That is the fourth-best free throw percentage in Conference USA this season, and is an improvement of 7.3 percentage points. Last year, Houston made just 64.5 percent (407-631) of their free throws, and that ranked 10th among C-USA teams.

The Cougars feature three of the top 15 individual free throw percentages in Conference USA this season. Jahmar Thorpe ranks sixth with 77.8 percent (70-90) and Oliver Lafayette is eighth with 77.1 percent (84-109). Robert McKiver ranks 14th and is shooting 73.2 percent (90-123) after making nine of his 10 free throws against Tulane and Memphis.

Marcus Malone has made 73.7 percent (14-19) of his free throw attempts. Tafari Toney is shooting 73.1 percent (19-26).

Robert McKiver became the first Cougar since 1980-81 to record four 30-point games in a season when he scored 32 points at Memphis. McKiver also netted a career-best 36 points against UCF, along with 33 points against Prairie View A&M and Rhode Island earlier this season. The last UH player to record four 30-point games in a season was Rob Williams, who scored 30 points nine times in 1980-81.

Earlier this season, McKiver's 33 points at Rhode Island was the first time a Cougar player opened a season with a 30-point game since Otis Birdsong scored 34 points against Texas Lutheran on Nov. 28, 1976. McKiver also is the second Cougar in school history to open his career with a 30-point game, joining Melvin Bell, who scored 30 points against New Mexico on Dec. 1, 1966.

Houston closes out the regular season this Saturday, March 3, when the Cougars play host to intrastate rival, UTEP, in a C-USA game at 7:00 p.m. The game is part of a special "Three-for-All" promotion that allows fans to purchase tickets to Saturday's baseball game, H Association Barbeque and basketball game for just $20. .

The day begins at 1:00 p.m. at Cougar Field when the UH baseball team plays host to Northwestern State University. Then, the H-Association Letterman's Club is sponsoring their annual Barbeque that begins at 4:30 p.m.

Finally, the UH men's basketball season will close out its regular season schedule against intra-state rival UTEP at 7:00 p.m.

Prior to Saturday's basketball game, Cougar fans will be able to meet members of UH's football team, that won the 2006 Conference USA championship. The team will sign autographs for fans beginning at 6:00 p.m. in Hofheinz Pavilion and will be recognized during halftime.

UH also will honor two key senior players on this year's basketball team, Oliver Lafayette and Jahmar Thorpe, prior to the game.



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