BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Houston Cougars standout Marcus Sasser, who was knocked out of Thursday’s win over Northern Kentucky after aggravating a groin injury, said he expects to play Saturday against Auburn in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I’m 100 percent playing tomorrow,” the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year told reporters Friday. “I’ve been doing a lot of treatment and stretching and massages and things like that to get ready.”
Sasser has averaged 16.7 points and 3.1 rebounds for the No.1-seeded Cougars this season.
He originally injured the groin Saturday during the AAC tournament. He didn’t play in Sunday’s championship game loss to Memphis and did not participate in practice Monday or Tuesday.
Coach Kelvin Sampson said Sasser practiced for the first time Wednesday and wasn’t certain to play against Northern Kentucky until Thursday morning. Had he decided to sit out because of the injury, Sampson said, he would have accepted the decision.
But Sasser attempted to play and aggravated the injury when he landed hard on a midrange jump shot during the first half. He played only 14 minutes, scoring five points on 2-5 shooting from the floor.
Without Sasser at full strength, Houston struggled to put away No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky, giving up 21 second-chance points and committing 17 turnovers before ultimately winning 63-52.
Sasser said Friday that he’s trying not to think about the injury.
While there’s always a fear of aggravating the injury again, he said, “I just want to give it my all because you don’t know when your last game is.”
Sampson said Friday that he’ll deal with Sasser’s injury the same way he has every other injury during his three decades as a coach: “It’s up to him and the trainer.”
“I don’t make any decisions,” he said. “People said, ‘Why did you play him?’ I didn’t. I play him if he’s healthy. The trainer thinks he can go and the kid thinks he can go. I trust Marcus. … If Marcus is hurt, he’ll say, ‘Coach, I can’t go,’ and then I won’t play him. If he’s out there and he can play, then that means he can play. So he’ll play as many minutes as he can tomorrow night. I don’t know how many minutes that’ll be, but that’ll be up to Marcus.
“He’s our best player, I know that. But I don’t treat him any different than I treat anybody else if they’re injured. I treat them all the same.”
Jamal Shead, one of four Houston players who averaged more than 10 points per game this season, also said he will play. Shead hyperextended a knee in Thursday night’s win.