Houston’s Marcus Sasser (groin) says he’s ready to commit to Auburn

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Marcus Sasser, the Houston Cougars’ standout after Thursday’s win over Northern Kentucky, said he expects to play Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Auburn.

“I’m going to play 100 percent tomorrow,” the American Athletic Conference player of the year told reporters on Friday. “I’ve been doing a lot of healing, stretching, massages and things like that to prepare.”

Sasser averaged 16.7 points and 3.1 rebounds this season for the No. 1-ranked Cougars.

He initially injured his groin during the AAC Tournament on Saturday. He did not play in Sunday’s championship game loss to Memphis and did not practice on Monday or Tuesday.

Coach Kelvin Sampson said Sasser practiced for the first time Wednesday and wasn’t sure he would play until Thursday morning against Northern Kentucky. If he had decided to sit out because of the injury, Sampson said he would have made that decision.

But Sasser struggled to play and aggravated the injury in the first half when he landed hard on a mid-range jumper. He played just 14 minutes and scored five points on 2-5 shooting from the floor.

Without Sasser at full strength, Houston struggled to put away No. 16 Northern Kentucky, giving up 21 second-chance points and committing 17 turnovers before winning 63-52.

Sasser said Friday he was trying not to think about the injury.

While the fear of re-injury is always there, he said: “I want to give it my all because you never know when your last game will be.”

Sampson said Friday that Sasser will handle the injury like any injury in his three decades as a coach: “It’s up to him and the coach.”

“I’m not making any decisions,” he said. “Why did you play it?” people said. I didn’t do that. If he’s healthy, I’ll play him. The coach thinks he can go and the kid thinks he can go. I trust Marcus… if Marcus gets hurt, he’s like, ‘Coach, I can’t.’ go away,’ and then I don’t play it. If he’s out there and can play, then he can play. So he’ll play as many minutes as possible tomorrow night. I don’t know how many minutes. it will happen, but it depends on Marcus.

“He’s our best player, I know that. But I treat him no differently than I treat anyone else if someone gets hurt. I treat them the same way.”

Jamal Schead, one of four Houston players averaging 10 points per game this season, also said he will play. Sheed sprained his knee in Thursday night’s win.

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