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Wolverines ‘D’ switches focus to impeding Cougars’ Gray

March 16, 2018 GMT

Wichita, Kan. — How do you stop Houston senior guard Rob Gray?

It’s a burning question Michigan will have to come up with an answer for after Gray put on an offensive show at Intrust Bank Arena before the Wolverines took the floor Thursday night.

Gray poured in a career-high 39 points and scored the winning layup with 1.1 seconds left to power sixth-seeded Houston to a 67-65 first-round victory over No. 11 seed San Diego State. Houston (27-7) and Michigan (29-7) will play at 9:40 p.m. Saturday for a spot in the West Region semifinals in Los Angeles.

“There’s a lot of ways you have to win games,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “A lot of times you just have to do it from the seat of your pants. We certainly didn’t go into this game thinking that offensively this was what we were going to have to do.

“Coaching these games, a lot of these games, and I’ve always thought the hardest one is the first one. If you can get by the first one, usually your kids relax and play a little bit better. Bu the difference in this game is we had Rob Gray and they didn’t.”

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Gray finished 12-for-25 from the field, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and was 11-for-15 from the free-throw line. The rest of the team was a combined 10-for-34 as Houston saw its double-digit lead slip away as it shot 28.6 percent (8-for-28) in the second half.

Gray carried the Cougars down the stretch and scored 21 of the team’s final 22 points, including 14 in a row at one point. But none were bigger than his 3-pointer and last-second layup in the final minute of a wild finish that gave Houston its first NCAA Tournament win since 1984.

“I was thinking to myself, I’m a senior, I’ve never been in March Madness. This is what I live for,” Gray said. “A small thought ran through my head. I was thinking about Cincinnati (in the American Athletic Conference title game), how I had a final chance to win the game for us and I didn’t. I just wanted to come through for my team.”

More:‘Unique evening’: Michigan topples Montana after slow start

And in order for Michigan to push past Houston and return to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season, it all starts with finding a way to slow down Gray, who has scored at least 30 points in four of past eight games.

“I was just focused on (Montana),” sophomore guard Zavier Simpson said after Michigan’s 61-47 first-round win. “I guess from what I’m hearing he almost had 40 (points), so he’s got to be a good player...I just want to make sure my team is locked in, recover and get back to the drawing board and see what the coaches have for us (on Friday).”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

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WEST REGION

Michigan vs. Houston

Tip-off: 9:40 p.m. Saturday, INTRUST Bank Arena, Wichita, Kan.

TV/radio: TBS/950 AM

Records: No. 3 seed Michigan is 29-7, No. 6 seed Houston is 27-7

Next up: Winner advances to Sweet 16 in Los Angeles