SAN ANTONIO — Jamal Shead scored a career-high 21 points and Houston led throughout in a 72-60 victory over top-seeded Arizona on Thursday night, moving the Cougars within one win of a second straight Final Four.
With Taze Moore getting into early foul trouble after his three-pointer for a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes, Shead and Kyler Edwards were both on the court nearly the entire game for the Cougars (32-5). Edwards, the Texas Tech transfer who played in the 2019 national championship game for the Red Raiders, had 19 points with five three-pointers.
After quick consecutive layups by Dalen Terry pulled Arizona to within 64-58 with just over two minutes left, Edwards settled things for Houston with a three from the right wing.
Houston plays second-seeded Villanova (28-7) in the South Region final on Saturday in San Antonio, which is about 200 miles from the Houston campus.
Terry had 17 points for the Wildcats (33-4), while Pac-12 player of the year Bennedict Mathurin had 15 and Christian Koloko 10.
The American Athletic Conference champion Cougars became the second former Southwest Conference team to knock a No. 1 seed out of this NCAA tournament in a matter of hours. Top overall seed Gonzaga lost 74-68 to Arkansas, which went to the SEC in 1991, five years before the SWC’s final season.
These Cougars are much different than the ones coach Kelvin Sampson took the the Final Four last year — their first since going three times in a row during the Phi Slama Jama era in 1982-84.
Houston lost four starters from last season and then lost Marcus Sasser, the lone returner and leading scorer who broke his left foot before Christmas. Sophomore guard Tramon Mark also had a season-ending shoulder injury.
Arizona had one of the least-experienced teams in Division I this season; according to KenPom.com, the Wildcats average 0.63 years of experienced, ranked 355th out of 358 teams. But they won 33 games, and two of their losses were on the road during the regular season against top-20 teams.
Those 33 wins left Tommy Lloyd one win shy of the most in NCAA history for a first-year coach. He took over the Wildcats after 21 seasons as an assistant coach for Mark Few at Gonzaga.