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Honolulu — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has seen steady improvement from his team over the first few months of the season. The Cougars took another big step in the right direction Wednesday.

Fabian White Jr. and Caleb Mills scored 19 points each to help Houston rally to a 75-71 win over No. 21 Washington in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic.

The Cougars (10-3) trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, but outscored the Huskies (10-3) 44-35 after halftime to win their fourth straight.

“We just kept chipping and chipping and chipping, but that’s a really good team,” Sampson said of Washington, which had won eight of its previous nine. “Early in the game they were hitting everything – easy shots, hard shots, medium shots – they were running it down our throat.”

White shot 7 of 13 from the field and hit all five of his free throws to finish with a career-high in points scored and earn the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.

Mills hit three of his team’s eight 3-pointers.

“I was really proud of our young guys. Caleb Mills is a freshman, Marcus Sasser is a freshman, Quentin Grimes is a sophomore and Fabian White is a junior – we only have one senior,” Sampson said.

He added, “Earlier in the year you could tell we were trying to figure out who we were, just searching for an identity, but we hung in there and kept working and this is the key to our program: today is December 25th. We’re a lot better on December 25th than we were on November 25th and we were a lot better on November 25th than we were on October 25th, but I do believe this, I think we’re going to be a lot better January 25th.”

Houston shot 17 of 18 (94.4 percent) as a team from the foul line.

Washington took a 35-21 lead with 6:01 left until halftime on Isaiah Stewart’s free throw, but Houston closed out the first half with a 10-1 run to get within 36-31 at the break.

Stewart finished with 25 points while Nahziah Carter added 15. Quade Green had 11 points and seven assists and Jaden McDaniels added 10 points in the loss.

Washington committed 15 turnovers to seven for Houston. There were five ties and 10 lead changes.

Houston saw leading scorer Grimes held to 14 points by the Huskies, but the sophomore guard still managed six assists and five rebounds. Grimes entered the game averaging 22 points in the Cougars’ first two games of the tournament and 15.3 on the season. … Washington saw its three-game streak come to an end. The Huskies were seeking their ninth win in 10 games.

The loss will likely drop the Huskies a few spots, while the Cougars can expect to grab some votes when poll is released Monday.

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