DALLAS -- — Marcus Sasser won't go so far as to say he doesn't want second-ranked Houston to be No. 1 again.
The senior guard simply echoes coach Kelvin Sampson that the Cougars don't talk much about it.
Sasser scored 20 points, freshman Jarace Walker added 14 and Houston cruised to an 80-65 victory over SMU on Thursday night.
With a win at home over Memphis on Sunday, the Cougars could be in line for their third stay atop The Associated Press Top 25 poll this season after losses by No. 1 Alabama and third-ranked Purdue, which has dropped three of four.
“We want to be No. 1,” said Sasser, responding with a soft smile to the suggestion that maybe it's better without the target. “Just really don’t just care about it too much, really.”
Losses to the Crimson Tide and Temple knocked them off the first two perches. The third could come just two weeks before the end of the regular season.
That's where Houston finished in 1983 — the last season the Cougars were No. 1 prior to this one — before losing to North Carolina State in the title game.
“That never creeps into our conversations,” Sampson said. “I’ve got enough stuff to watch, things to critique about this game when I get on that bus.”
Jamal Shead, who scored 13 points, finished the first half with an isolation layup before starting the second half with one of his eight assists on a one-handed, alley-oop dunk by Walker.
Those plays were part of a 12-0 run on either side of halftime as the Cougars (24-2, 12-1 American Athletic Conference) took a 48-29 lead and led by at least 11 points the rest of the way in their sixth consecutive win.
Zhuric Phelps had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Mustangs, (9-18, 4-10), who lost by 34 at Houston last month and never gave the often-raucous Moody Coliseum crowd much chance to get loud a year after a two-point upset of the Cougars at home.
SMU was tied five minutes in, but fell behind for good not long after.
“We got off to a good start and we weren't overwhelmed by the presence of their team the way we were the first time,” SMU coach Rob Lanier said. “I thought we accepted that, that there was a level of relief in the group that it isn’t a drubbing.”
One of Walker's two 3-pointers gave Houston its first 20-point lead midway through the second half, and Sasser pushed the lead to 23 with another 3 on the next possession. Sasser was 4 of 9 from deep.
J’Wan Roberts helped the Cougars establish a post presence early, making all four of his shots for all eight of his points in the first half. He had 10 rebounds.
Houston: Free throws continue to be an issue for a team ranked in the 200s nationally in that category. The Cougars finished 16 of 26, missing at least 10 for the third time this season. Houston lost the first two, but the lead was too big for it to matter this time. Tramon Mark, who scored 11 points, helped the cause by making six of seven from the line.
SMU: The Mustangs finished with a respectable 11 turnovers, but four came in a three-minute span late in the first half and early in the second during the decisive 12-0 run by Houston.
FINAL TRIP HOME
This was Sasser's final trip home to the Dallas area. He starred at Red Oak High School, south of Dallas, and comes from a long line of basketball Sassers. One uncle (Jason) played at Texas Tech, and another (Jeryl Jr.) at SMU. “Wanted to leave on a good note,” Sasser said.
Houston: The Cougars play Memphis, which started the day tied for second in the AAC, twice in their final five regular-season games.
SMU: East Carolina at home Sunday.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP--Top25
- Steven Anderson
- Tony Chiazza
- Courtney Green