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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Roberts and Shead combine for 32 points to lead 1-seed Houston to 69-48 win over 4-seed Cincinnati

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POSTED: March 12, 2023 -- 9:50 a.m. CT

FORT WORTH, TX -- (Dickies Arena)

The 1-seed Houston Cougars defeated the 4-seed Cincinnati Bearcats 69-48 Saturday afternoon in the first semifinal of the 2023 American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship. Unlike Friday's win over East Carolina, Houston did not have a poor field goal percentage versus the Bearcats. Houston made 29 of 57 (50.2 fg%) against Cincinnati compared to 28.5 fg% against ECU.

Houston junior guard Jamal Shead and Houston redshirt-junior forward J'Wan Roberts set the tone early in the game. Roberts rebounded his own missed jump hook and scored a putback layup for the first 2 points in the game. Next, Roberts pulled down another offensive rebound and scored another putback layup for a 4-0 Houston lead.

Shead set the tone defensively with his tenacious on-the-ball defense. Shead's first steal of the game led to a layup by Houston senior guard Marcus Sasser.

Houston led 9-2 after Sasser's layup. After a 30-second timeout by Cincinnati, Roberts scored a floater in the paint to boost Houston's lead to 11-2.

With 6:57 left in the first half, the Coogs (31-2) led 20-12 when Sasser slipped on a wet spot near the top of the key. Sasser's legs split awkwardly; and, he collapsed to the court in pain. After a few minutes, Sasser was helped up; and, he walked slowly to Houston's bench. Moments later, Sasser walked to Houston's locker room.

Houston announced Sasser's injury as a groin sprain. Sasser didn't play the rest of the game; but, he did return to the bench and support his teammates.

With Sasser out of the game, Houston continued its game plan of scoring in the paint. In addition to J'Wan Roberts, Houston's frontcourt players: Jarace Walker, Reggie Chaney, Ja'Vier Francis and Terrance Arceneaux crushed the Bearcats 26-2 in the paint in the first half.

Houston led 38-23 at halftime. Cincinnati struggled to make field goals (6 for 23) and free throws (7 for 15) in the opening half.

Cincinnati used a 12-6 spurt to cut Houston's lead to 9 (44-35) with 15:17 to go in the second half. However, Jamal Shead sank a floater in the paint; then, J'Wan Roberts made 1 free throw before scoring a jumper in the paint before Shead swished a three-pointer for an 8-0 Houston run.

The Bearcats never recovered. Houston stretched its lead to as much as 25 points (69-44) in the closing minutes of the game.

Houston finished the game with a 38-12 advantage in the paint and a 13-4 edge in 2nd-chance points.

Shead finished the game with 16 points and a game-high 9 assists. Roberts scored 16 and pulled down 8 rebounds. Jarace Walker added 13 points and 8 rebounds. Houston out-rebounded Cincinnati 44-32 in the game.

With Saturday's win, the Cougars advanced to the American Athletic Conference Championship Title Game for the fifth consecutive season, a first in program history.

Houston's next game will be Sunday, March 12, at Dickies Arena, in the final of the 2023 American Athletic Conference Championship. Houston will face 2-seed Memphis. Tip time for the game is 2:15 p.m. Central Time on ESPN.

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