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Volume 7, Issue 3                                    University of Houston

Cougars hope to get away from ghosts of Christmas

By Sam Khan Jr.
Breaking News

Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum. 

That's what many fans probably needed to get through the Houston Cougars' holiday games, which were anything but jolly, as they were thrashed in Washington by the 12th-ranked Huskies 110-63 on Christmas Eve, and were knocked off five days later by an undefeated Texas A&M squad in College Station, 93-80. 

Now they have the chance to right the wrongs of the holiday past when they host the 17th-ranked Louisville Cardinals today at Hofheinz Pavilion. 

The upcoming game against Louisville is not one Houston fans normally would expect the Cougars to come away with, but the new attitude coach Tom Penders has brought to the program could change those expectations. 

Penders said he can see the change in attitudes in this year's squad as compared to last year's. 

"Their attitude, work ethic, all those things are great," Penders said. "For a team that won nine games last season, they are more than competitive. They expect to win every game and they don't quit." 

The Cougars closed out the 2004 campaign at 8-5, which included a four-game winning streak in early December as well as a 5-0 home record. They are ahead of the pace of last year's squad by two games, as they were 6-7 at the same point in the season. 

The Cardinals, who are widely regarded as the best team in Conference USA, come into the contest 11-2 and are led by Preseason C-USA Player of the Year Francisco Garcia, a junior forward who leads the Cardinals in scoring (17.2 points per game), assists (4.2), steals (2.3) and blocks (1.6). Garcia was named C-USA Player of the Week for his performances in three Louisville victories last week. 

Other big-time players to keep an eye on include junior guard Taquan Dean, who is second on the team in scoring (15.7) and has a deadly-accurate shooting touch, shooting over 51 percent from the field and an even 50 percent from beyond the arc, and forward Ellis Myles who averages a double-double with 11.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. 

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is in his fourth season at the helm, and boasts a 75-32 record as head coach of the Cardinals. It will be the 18th time Houston and Louisville have met, with the Cardinals holding a 13-4 advantage. Louisville has won the last eight consecutive contests between the two schools, with the last Houston victory taking place on Feb. 21, 1993. The contest will be the C-USA opener for both squads. 

While Louisville looks to maintain its expected conference supremacy, this game affords the Cougars the opportunity to make a statement. A statement that they aren't the same old Cougars of recent years, and that there's a whole new attitude and outlook to a squad that has a chance to make noise in a difficult conference. 

And a statement to fans to put the bottle away and ring in the New Year with joy. 

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