HOUSTON — This year, tickets for the University of Houston basketball games were hard to come by. The Fertitta Center was packed on a nightly basis. The team created new fans each time out and energized existing ones, like alum Josie Smith.
“I bleed Cougar red everywhere there is,” she said.
“Do you own anything but red in your wardrobe,” we asked.
“Hardly any,” she said. “If I have it, I hardly ever wear it.”
Smith sits courtside at every home game and has been for a very long time. She was a cheerleader and she hasn't missed a Final Four since, even if it meant flying back from London on short notice.
"I don't know what they'd have to do to keep me out of a Final Four,” she said.
“But you don't have to go far this year if it happened,” we said.
“No. Isn't that wonderful? It’s a dream come true,” Smith said.
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Her passion is matched on the other side of the floor by Howie Lorch.
“I have 61 consecutive years of not missing,” he said. “I don't think I've missed more than 10 games in 61 years.”
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Lorch is also a University of Houston graduate. He was a basketball team manager in the 60s. He was roommates with U of H great Elvin Hayes. This program means the world to him.
“This is my second family,” he said. “Guy Lewis was kind enough to give me a basketball manager scholarship out of high school. Otherwise, I wouldn't have got to go to college, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”
This magical season they've been watching, each of them knows has a perfect ending that's within reach.
“It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it,” Lorch said.
It seems the whole city is behind this team.
“I hope that the town will keep that going,” Smith said.