HOUSTON - The Houston Cougars needed a reality check heading into tournament season.
They got one Sunday, but got the win, too.
Rob Gray scored 30 points, Corey Davis Jr. had 17 and No. 25 Houston held off UConn 81-71.
“I thought it was good to have this one today,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Had we come in here and won by 30, everybody would be slapping us on the back, but this is a little bit of a reality check. This is what tournament basketball is going to be like.”
Gray was 10 of 15 from the floor for the Cougars (24-6, 14-4 American Athletic Conference), who have won 10 of their last 12.
“This was a perfect situation for us,” Gray said. “We had been winning a lot of home games, and this is tournament basketball. This is what we have been preparing for.”
Devin Davis added 12 points for Houston, which shot 45 percent from the field and hit 8 of 20 from behind the arc. The Cougars finished 15-0 at home, the first time Houston has done that since 1983-84.
Jalen Adams had 22 points and six assists, Terry Larrier added 19 points and seven rebounds, and Christian Vital had 11 points for UConn (14-17, 7-11), which has lost three of its last four. The Huskies shot 51 percent from the field, including 55 percent in the first half.
“We didn’t get Rob Gray under control,” Adams said. “On the defensive end, we have to get him under control and maybe force the ball out of his hands and make someone else make a shot.”
Trailing 65-63, Gray hit a free throw to cut the lead to one before hitting a reverse layup and a free throw after getting fouled to give Houston a two-point lead. Following a free throw by Antwoine Anderson, Gray hit a 3-pointer from 25 feet to give the Cougars a four-point lead with four minutes left.
The teams traded points before Vital hit a free throw with 2:53 left to cut the lead to 72-69. After Adams missed a jumper, Gray hit two free throws with 1:46 left to increase Houston’s lead to five. Adams missed two free throws next time down the floor, and Fabian White Jr. connected on two free throws with 1:13 left to push the Cougars’ lead to seven.
“It came down to a five-minute game,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “That’s what we wanted to put ourselves in, but we didn’t execute the defensive schemes.”
Sampson said he told Gray to take the game over.
“The good players have another level to them,” Sampson said. “Rob was on the third or fourth floor today and then all of a sudden he jumped to the tenth floor. When he did that, the game changed for us.”
That would be as close as the Huskies would get.
UConn led 38-37 at the half. Houston led by as many as 13 at 22-9 with 13 minutes left in the half, but the Huskies outscored the Cougars 10-2 to end the half as Adams scored the last five points.
The Huskies hung with the Cougars for most of the contest and held a one-point lead with five minutes left, but could not hold on. UConn struggled from the field late in the second half, connecting on two field goals in the last 11 minutes, and from the free-throw line in the second half, missing seven free throws.
ROCKETS IN THE BUILDING
Houston Rockets guards James Harden and Eric Gordon sat courtside opposite the Cougars’ bench. Sampson coached Gordon at Indiana, and Sampson was an assistant with Harden’s Rockets before taking the Cougars’ coaching job.
UConn starts the AAC Tournament in Orlando on Thursday.