LAS VEGAS (AP) — Fabian White Jr. scored 21 points and No. 12 Houston rode a dominating first half to a 70-52 win over Butler Monday in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
The Cougars (4-0) overwhelmed Butler early, scoring the game’s first 17 points while building a 21-point halftime lead. They weren’t quite as locked in at either end of the floor to start the second half, allowing the Bulldogs (3-2) to creep back in it before pulling away down the stretch.
Next up for Houston is a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against Wisconsin.
Bryce Bolden had 16 points for Butler, which had 20 turnovers that led to 27 Houston points.
Houston lost four key players from last year’s Final Four team, including third-team AP All-American guard Quentin Grimes.
Coach Kelvin Sampson filled the holes with quality transfers to play alongside a solid returning core. The new-look Cougars have shown they can still D it up: They forced 17 turnovers and held Virginia to 47 points in a 20-point win last week.
They made life even more difficult on Butler.
Houston was locked in defensively from the opening tip, with quick hands filling passing lanes and nimble feet rotating bodies in front of Butler ballhandlers.
The Bulldogs had a hard time getting around or shooting over the long-armed Cougars, repeatedly hoisting up contested shots as the shot clock ticked down. Butler needed 6:21 to hit its first basket and trailed 41-20 at halftime.
Butler threw a stick into the spokes of Houston’s well-oiled machine to start the half, flummoxing the Cougars with a more aggressive defense.
The Bulldogs held Houston without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes, trimming the lead 44-32, but couldn’t sustain it. Houston stretched the lead back to 24 and cruised into the semifinals from there.
Houston looked like a team that could make another deep March run in the first half. A sloppy second half showed the Cougars still have plenty of work to do.
Butler was able to muck up the game in the second half, but an ugly first half put the Bulldogs in too deep of a hole to make it competitive.
Houston plays Wisconsin in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Butler faces Texas A&M in the loser’s bracket Tuesday.
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