BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — When J’Wan Roberts walked off the basketball court Saturday night after the University of Houston came back in the second half to beat Auburn 81-64, he put his hand to his mouth and blew a kiss.
“See you later, see you next season,” Roberts, the red-shirted Cougars junior forward, said of the gesture to the pro-Auburn crowd that turned the second-round contest at Legacy Arena into a game on street.
The Cougars (33-3), seeded No.
Two other No. 1 seeds weren’t so lucky during a wild and unpredictable opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
On Friday, Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. On Saturday, Arkansas rallied to oust defending champion Kansas.
Add the no. 2 from Arizona and the No. Virginia’s #4 to the high seed roster sent home early.
“The first weekend is really tough,” UH guard Marcus Sasser said. “That’s why we try not to worry about which seed we are or which seed our opponent is. The number doesn’t really matter. It’s win or go home.
For 20 minutes on Saturday, it looked like the Cougars might be destined for the same fate as Purdue and Kansas. Down by 10 points at halftime, the Cougars didn’t panic.
“Sometimes it’s not always about fussing and cursing and yelling and yelling,” said UH coach Kelvin Sampson. “I didn’t scream or shout. I just said, “If we play defense, we’ll come back to this match.” “
For the next 20 minutes, UH put together one of the most dominant defensive performances in the program’s tournament history. Auburn made just four field goals, shooting 16.7% and 23 points. UH’s frontcourt of Jarace Walker and Roberts combined for 11 of the team’s 12 blocked shots.
UH junior guard Tramon Mark nearly outran the Tigers in the second half with 20 of his career-high 26 points. What was equally remarkable for the Cougars: 18 of Mark’s points came in the final 10:53 after Sasser picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench.
“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a true top seed because of the conference we play in. But I think we’re still one of the best teams in the country and we’ve shown it.”
Birmingham was the safest place for the no. 1 during the first weekend. Down the hall from the UH locker room was No. 1 seed Alabama.
This is only the second time since 2004 that only two No. 1 survived the opening weekend.
“When this weekend is over, the smoke clears, it goes from 68 (teams) to 64 to 32 to 16,” Sampson said. “We have been here many times in the round of 16, so the next 40 minutes will be great. We have to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll go from there. If not, then it’s over. That’s the way it goes.”
Going into Sunday’s final games, the Midwest region was the steadiest of the four regions, with the top three seeds – UH, Texas and Xavier – all advancing to second weekends. As for Cinderella? No. 15 Princeton beat Arizona and Missouri in the South Region, and No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson or No. 9 Florida Atlantic would advance in the East Region.
Roberts said the Cougars don’t care what’s going on elsewhere.
“I put myself in a completely different category,” she said. “We don’t compare ourselves to other teams. We stick to what we do and it shows. Other number 1 teams have been beaten, but we have not.
Survive and advance.
“We’re still playing,” UH point guard Jamal Shead said. “It’s March and we’re still going.”