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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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Corey Davis Jr: "We know we're coming into the game as underdogs."

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The Saxenian Family

POSTED: March 29, 2019 -- 9:58 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY, MO (SPRINT CENTER) -- The No. 3 seed Houston Cougars (33-3) will face the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats (29-6) Friday, at approximately 8:59 p.m. (Central Time), in the Regional Semifinals of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The game will be shown on TBS.

Houston advanced to the Regional Semis a 74-59 win Sunday over the Ohio State Buckeyes. Kentucky defeated Wofford 62-56 to reach this round.

Friday's game will be the first time Houston has faced Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

Houston ranks No. 1 in the country in field-goal percentage defense (.366), No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.278) and No. 7 in scoring defense (61.0 points per game) entering the Sweet 16. The Cougars are also No. 5 nationally in rebounds per game (41.1) and No. 8 in rebounding margin (plus).

Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. leads Houston in scoring a 17.1 scoring average while junior guard Armoni Brooks adds 13.3 points and 6.5 boards per outing. Davis and Brooks have each made at least 110 3-pointers this season and four Cougars make 35 percent or more of their 3-point shots.

The Saxenian Family

Sophomore P.J. Washington (6'8, 225) leads four Wildcats averaging double-digit points with 14.8 points per game. Washington leads Kentucky with 7.5 rebounds per game and shoots 41.9% on three-point shot attempts. However, Washington is a game-time decision due to a sprained left foot which caused him to miss the first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Washington injured his foot in Kentucky's loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. X-rays were negative and there were no fractures. Washington was in a precautionary cast until Monday of this week.

"Honestly, we're just -- we're scouting them as a whole," Corey Davis said. "If PJ plays -- we know his tendencies. We know what he likes to do as an individual. So I mean, it doesn't really affect our game. We're just focusing on the team as a whole and what we're going to do."

Teammate Galen Robinson Jr added, "We're definitely anticipating that he's playing. We're preparing like he's a starting 4 man."

Currently, freshman EJ Montgomery (6'10", 225) is projected to start instead of Washington. Montgomery averages 3.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.0 block in 15 minutes per game.

Freshman Tyler Herro (6'5", 195) is second on the team with 14.1 points per game and shoots 36.0% (58 for 161) from three. Freshman Keldon Johnson (6'6", 211) averages 13.6 points per game and shoots 39.6% (44 for 111) from three. Graduate transfer Reid Travis (6'8", 238) is fourth with 11.5 points per contest. Freshman Ashton Hagans (6'3", 192) leads the team with 4.4 assists per game.

Rebounding will be a key factor in Friday's game.

Kentucky averages 76.4 points per game on 47.8 fg% (35.9 3pt%). The Wildcats averaged 38.5 rebounds per game while allowing their opponents to pull down 29.1 boards per game. The 9.4 rebounds per game margin ranks 5th in NCAA Division 1.

Houston averages 41.1 rebounds per game while allowing opponents to grab 33.3 boards per game for a 7.8 rebounds per game margin which ranks 8th.

The Saxenian Family

Both teams are physical.

"The biggest thing is just the physicality," Reid Travis said what he's noticed about Houston. "A big thing we've been working on in practice is just rebounding, just trying to box out. They're a team that when they do shoot it, they're all trying to chase it and get off and rebound and put it back. So for us a big part of the game plan is just finishing out possessions with a rebound and just really trying to match their physicality."

Keldon Johnson agreed, "Definitely agree with everything he said. Just being physical and just matching the intensity. We have to come out and do what we do and just play harder than them."

Houston is the perceived underdog in the game; but, that perception doesn't phase Houston.

"We know we're coming into the game as underdogs," said Davis. "We have to play like our lives are depending on it. We have a lot we're playing for. We just love this group we're with. We have to come in and just buy into the entire game for 40 minutes."

"We're definitely the underdog," Robinson added. "We have to have a chip on our shoulder and play with our hearts."

The winner of the Houston - Kentucky game will face the winner of 1-seed North Carolina / 5-seed Auburn on Sunday, March 31, in Kansas City. Time and broadcasting network for that game will be announced at a later date.

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