No. 3 Houston’s defense has been called “menacing.”

Tulsa coach Eric Konkol recently described the Cougars as “gritty and nasty.”

On Saturday afternoon, Houston (13-1, 1-0) will open its American Athletic Conference home schedule against the UCF Knights (10-3, 1-0).

Entering the weekend, Houston leads the nation in fewest points allowed (49.9) and field-goal-percentage defense (.328). The Cougars also rank second in 3-point-percentage defense (.237) and third in scoring margin (25.4).

“You’re not going to win championships with your offense,” said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson. “Some nights, the ball won’t go in the basket. But you can always count on defense and rebounding.”

You can at Houston, which finished 32-6 and reached the Elite Eight last season and appears headed for another excellent campaign.

The Cougars have used the same starting five for all 14 of their games this season, including senior Marcus Sasser, who leads the team in scoring (15.7).

Jamal Shead averages 7.8 points and leads Houston in assists (5.6) and steals (2.0). He is averaging 7.8 points and ranks among the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.12).

Tramon Mark and J’Wan Roberts are tied for second on Houston’s scoring chart (9.4) and Jarace Walker is close behind (9.3). Roberts also leads the team in rebounds (7.3).

Mark played just seven games last season before he was lost to shoulder surgery. Sasser played just 12 games due to a foot injury.

Now they are healthy again, and the Cougars will be searching for their fifth straight win on Saturday.

Houston leads its series with UCF, 30-29. The Cougars have won five straight against UCF and nine of the past 10.

UCF is on a two-game win streak, including a 52-45 victory on Wednesday over Wichita State.

The Knights this season have already beaten Florida State, Oklahoma State and Ole Miss.

But UCF coach Johnny Dawkins has told his team that league play — especially against a giant such as Houston — will be a tougher challenge.

“I’ve been around long enough to know how it’s going to be,” Dawkins said. “Everyone’s excited for the opportunity. … Guys are fighting for their lives.”

Taylor Hendricks leads UCF in scoring (14.8), rebounds (6.8) and blocked shots (1.7). The freshman is shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point distance.

Darius Johnson is second on the team in scoring (11.8) and first in assists (4.5) and steals (2.6).

C.J. Kelly, who previously played at Norfolk State, Albany and Massachusetts, is averaging 10.7 points.

Ithiel Horton, who previously played at Delaware and Pittsburgh, is averaging 10.6 points.

Michael Durr is UCF’s fifth starter after previously playing for South Florida and Indiana. He is averaging 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds.

UCF’s top reserve is Brandon Suggs, an East Carolina transfer averaging 7.5 points.

Johnson scored a team-high 15 points in Wednesday’s win against the Shockers, adding five rebounds and four steals. He was the only Knight in double figures.

–Field Level Media