Houston has advanced to the Final Four for first time since 1984, when the Cougars were defined by their high-flying, slam-dunking “Phi Slama Jama” show.
Houston, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, survived a furious second-half rally by No. 12 seed Oregon State to win 67-61 Monday night in Indianapolis. The win sends the Cougars to the national semifinals against the winner of Monday’s late game between Baylor and Arkansas.
The Cougars, 28-3, advanced not with high-wire, above-the-rim acrobatics that were the focal points of those great teams of the 80s, but with a stifling defense.
Houston built a 34-17 lead at the half and, in the process, held the Oregon State’s starting five to a total of seven points in the first 20 minutes.
On his way off the court, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, in a CBS courtside interview, said, “You don’t get any medals for 20 minutes.’’
Sampson’s words proved to be prophetic.
Oregon State turned the game around in the second half with a mad 17-3 rally that tied the game at 55-55 with 3:41 remaining.
The Beavers turned the ball over eight times in the first half and didn’t have a single turnover in the second half until they committed two killer giveaways in the final 47 seconds, allowing Houston to pull away.
Houston was led by Marcus Sasser, who scored a game-high 20 points. DeJon Jarreau scored 10 points, had eight assists and nine rebounds. Justin Gorham had six points and 10 rebounds. Quentin Grimes scored 18 points and had four assists. Fabian White Jr. had eight points off the bench.
Houston overwhelmed Oregon State on the offensive glass, with 19 rebounds giving the Cougars a number of backbreaking second-chance points. Oregon State had only seven offensive rebounds.
“Toughness — that’s what coach [Sampson] preaches every day — the toughest team is going to win,’’ Grimes said. “We were tough and stayed poised that was what we did.’’
For Oregon State, Ethan Thompson scored 11 points on 3 of 12 shooting, had seven rebounds and six assists. Maurice Calloo scored 13 points off the bench. Jarod Lucas and Warith Alatishe each scored eight points.
Oregon State, which was trying to become the first No. 12 seed ever to reach a Final Four, entered the game having upset No. 5 seed Tennessee, No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago to get to the Elite Eight. Houston was simply too much for the Beavers to handle.
Houston’s path to the Elite Eight, meanwhile, featured wins over No. 15 seed Cleveland State, No. 10 seed Rutgers and No. 11 seed Syracuse.
The Cougars’ win over No. 12 Oregon State gave them the distinction of being the first team to reach a Final Four never having beaten a team with a single-digit seeding.
“We just control what we can control,’’ Houston guard Jarreau said before the game. “That’s not our problem.’’