The Houston Cougars have advanced to its third consecutive Sweet 16 with a 68-53 win over Big Ten regular-season champion Illinois Sunday. It marks the first time the program has reached three consecutive Sweet 16s since 1982-84.
“Just proud of our team,” coach Kelvin Sampson said, “Our kids are tough kids. This is a tough program. That’s how we’ve achieved to this point.”
A lot of the effort on Sunday can be credited to a true mid-major transfer, Taze Moore, who scored a season-high 21 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
He finished a play late in the game that encapsulated his whole basketball career. Amid an 11-0 run late in the game, Fabian White Jr. went running for a loose ball towards the media table and found an open Moore for a quick finish. The momentum from this play seemingly put it out of reach for the Illini.
“Those are culture plays,” Sampson said.
But it has been a long road to get to the big stage for Moore. Sampson described how he needed a lot of work when he first stepped foot to campus.
“You talk about a fart in a skillet... Lord help,” Sampson said earlier this week referring to Moore.
Moore spent five seasons at Cal State Bakersfield playing under the great Rod Barnes. His first three seasons were derailed with injury, and as a result, he saw limited playing time. In his junior year, he made a huge step. He played in his first game in 634 days after five different surgeries. Prior to that game, Moore didn’t know if he’d ever play again.
In his first season back, Moore averaged 6.4 points per game, nearly triple what he averaged during his freshman season.
The next year, he got better, and the year after even better. By the time he was finished, he averaged 12.2 points per game and made All-Big West First Team. A lot of that was credited to the hard work he put in during the regular season that included a stretch where he scored double-digits in 10 consecutive games.
After the 2020-21 season ended, the University of Houston came calling. After sticking it out through COVID-19 and all the trials and tribulations with the Roadrunners, he took a step up to a program that just reached the Final Four.
The start wasn’t all too kind to Moore, as it was a long and winding road to start his Cougar career. After starting the first four games of the regular season, he was put into a bench role. He began with 12 points against Hofstra and scored single digits in seven out of his next eight games.
Moore looked lost. Sampson then elevated him back into the starting lineup in the regular-season finale against Louisiana, and from there, he has been playing some of the best basketball of his career.
“It just shows that they believe in me,” Moore said. I’ appreciate them more than they ever know it. Just because of all those long nights that Coach [Quannas White] worked out with me, and Coach Sampson yelling at me. It just shows that he wants it for all of us.”
Moore has scored at least nine points in 17 of the last 18 games.
“Those guys encouraged me to come out here and play as hard as I can and be the tough, gritty guy that I am,” Moore said.
With the way Moore has been playing, it is very possible he leads the Cougars to their second straight Final Four.