KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whenever someone would ask Kelvin Sampson if the dream scenario for No. 1 seed Houston would be playing in the Final Four just 10 miles from campus at NRG Arena, he would not engage the idea. Instead, Sampson would tell the story about the first time he suffered an upset during March Madness.
During the 1994 tournament, Sampson's Washington State squad was an 8-seed that lost to 9-seed Boston College, which then made a run to the Elite Eight.
He felt that same pain again Friday when Houston, with a chance to play in a Final Four hosted by the school, suffered an 89-75 loss to 5-seed Miami at T-Mobile Center.
"I'm proud of my team for a lot of things," Sampson said after the game. "Unfortunately, one off-night and you go home in this tournament. We just never could get a foothold. We kept climbing, and we'd get ahead of them, and then we just couldn't put stops together."
Houston's dream -- the team has worn "For the City" warmup shirts throughout the postseason -- of playing for a national title at home ended against a 7.5-point underdog.
The Hurricanes overwhelmed Houston with their speed, constricting defense, explosiveness and 3-point shooting. Miami made 11 of its first 22 shots from beyond the arc as Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack led all scorers with 26 points.
Norchad Omier's brawn -- he finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds -- was a problem for the Cougars, who are accustomed to being the most aggressive team on the floor no matter who they face.
"That kid has been the biggest, strongest guy on the floor every game he's played," Sampson said. "I think what helps him is how smart he is. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He's tough. He's got great hands. ... We played a lot of 7-footers this year. None of them bothered us -- 6-10, 6-11, 7-foot, we played against a lot of those. They were never a factor with us. But this kid was because of how good he is."
It was a validating effort for Miami, which watched its women's team reach the Elite Eight for the first time hours earlier against Villanova.
"I know for sure me and Norchad had the game on in our room, and we were cheering them on," Pack said. "I'm sure the rest of the guys did as well. It was really fun watching their game, seeing them beat Villanova, when they were expected to lose. Making the Elite Eight for the first time in their program history is something that people didn't think about at the beginning of the year."
Then, Miami's men's team joined them.
Although Houston was tough, the best defense Miami might have faced this weekend was at its team hotel, when multiple players got stuck in one of its elevators and had to be rescued by the fire department on Thursday. Jim Larranaga used that moment as a lesson for his team.
"I told them to beat Houston, you've got to have five guys in the paint, everybody has got to block out and everybody has got to rebound," Larranaga said after his team earned its second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight. "Then the guys left the meeting and got on the elevator. They packed 12 guys into the elevator, and it got stuck, and it took a half-hour for the firemen to get them out of there. And I just told them today at our shootaround, 'Hey, our defense was too stretched out. You guys have got to be in the paint like you were in the elevator yesterday.' And they did that."
For Houston, Friday's loss was the end of a turbulent stretch. In the AAC tournament, Marcus Sasser suffered a groin injury that affected him for multiple games. Jamal Shead suffered a knee injury in the team's win over Northern Kentucky in the first round and, per the CBS broadcast, dealt with back issues during Friday's loss to Miami.
Plus, Sampson said basketball had been therapeutic for him after his twin sister, Karen, died while he was coaching in the AAC tournament.
"I didn't want to make this about me," Sampson said this week when asked about the impact of his sister's death on his ability to lead his team.
Sampson had a squad that had the makings of a national champion. Entering Friday's game, Houston had lost just one game since Jan. 22. The return of Sasser (14 points) and Tramon Mark (12 points), who both missed the bulk of last season due to injury, and the arrival of Jarace Walker, a projected first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft, helped the Cougars reload after losing four seniors from last year's squad that lost to Villanova in the Elite Eight.
But Houston will go home after losing its shot to play for a national championship just a 17-minute drive from its campus. According to Sasser, the team wasn't impacted by the pressure of that possibility.
"We were just taking it game by game," he said. "Everybody else was thinking about that. We knew how hard it was to get to the Final Four. Just because it's in Houston, that doesn't mean we get extra points or something like that when we step on the floor. We were just taking it game by game, but we fell a little short."