First, it was senior center Josh Carlton who took it upon himself to carry the offensive load for Houston after the Cougars lost two key cogs just before the start of the American Athletic Conference schedule.
Of late, senior guard Kyler Edwards has helped fill the void. Edwards averaged 24 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in victories over South Florida and East Carolina last week to earn his second consecutive AAC Player of the Week honor.
Edwards is sure to play a vital role Saturday as the seventh-ranked Cougars (17-2, 6-0 American) travel to face UCF, seeking to extend their winning streak to 10 games.
With guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark lost to season-ending injuries, Edwards has assumed a greater role orchestrating the Cougars' pick-and-roll offense. The nuances of the task came gradually for Edwards, but with each game, he has become more effective and efficient.
"Kyler, starting with the USF game, started getting comfortable," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "But, also, when kids know they're going to play 35 minutes, 37 minutes, I think there's a calmness that comes over them.
"Kyler is an unselfish kid. He's a good basketball player. He's pretty good at just about everything."
The heavy workload has yet to undermine Edwards or others in the Cougars' short-handed backcourt. That doesn't alleviate concerns moving forward, especially as Houston prepares for a rugged stretch that features games at Cincinnati and SMU. With its depth compromised, Houston will be challenged to stay in the fight for 40 minutes game after game.
"That's going to be our question the rest of the year: How can we finish games?" Sampson said. "With our lineup, there are so many variables beyond our control: foul trouble, who's on the floor, fatigue. I think we can keep our front line fresh. The biggest thing is the backcourt."
UCF (12-6, 4-4) had won three of four games before an 84-79 setback at Wichita State on Wednesday. The performance represented a step back for the Golden Knights defensively, with the Shockers recording the highest point total in regulation this season against UCF in conference play.
Beyond their struggles to defend without fouling against the Shockers, who hit 31 of 40 free throws, UCF surrendered 15 offensive rebounds in the defeat. Those are foreboding trends with Houston next on the slate.
"We have to make sure to get our minds right," UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We have to learn from this game, get better from it. I thought there were some positives we'll take away from the second half that we'll show our guys, and we'll show our guys some things we've got to improve in.
"We can't give up 84 points; that's not who we are defensively. It starts on that end of the floor. Between that and defensive rebounding, closing the possessions out, we have to get better in those areas -- and that's what we're going to focus on."
With the Golden Knights' leading scorer on the season, Darin Green Jr., limited to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting against the Shockers, senior Brandon Mahan put up 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
--Field Level Media