The image of Houston basketball is spicy. One pictures a 6-foot guard dribbling the length of the court, behind the back, through the legs. He pulls up and takes a 20-foot jumper. It misses. But a 6-8 player stuffs in the rebound. "No discipline . . . too many turnovers . . . just playground ball," the critics say.

Houston Coach Guy Lewis thinks that image is a false one. And yesterday, Lewis, the least visible, but the most experienced, coach in the NCAA final four, uncharacteristically took the time to denounce the run-and-gun, outlaw image a number of people have of him and his team.

"We get more criticism about being undisciplined," Lewis said at a luncheon in Houston, "but the people who say that don't come and watch my practices. I go to other coaches' practices and see their teams scrimmage. We don't even scrimmage that much. We run a controlled practice. Everything we do is timed.

"People talk like all I do is kick the damn ball out on the floor and just scrimmage," said Lewis, 60. In his 26th season of coaching, he ranks 16th on the all-time winning list. A national sports magazine, however, ranked Lewis as one of the five worst coaches in the nation.

"Every coach has his way of doing things. Why don't people ask me why I'm doing something before they write about it? The coach might have a very good reason. I hate bad shots. I really do think we're a pretty disciplined outfit."

Ironically, Saturday's semifinal opener at 3:39 p.m. EST in New Orleans matches Houston against top-ranked North Carolina, whose image is the epitome of discipline.

Disciplined or not, Houston is a good basketball team. The Cougars (25-7), the Southwest Conference runner-up, have a powerful 7-foot reserve center and probably the flashiest guard in the nation.

The guard is 6-2 junior Rob Williams, who last was seen dribbling around, past or through Boston College for 25 points in the Midwest Regional final Sunday.

Williams said yesterday that Houston's success in the NCAA tournament makes the possibility of him turning pro after this season "100 percent better." He said that playing college basketball again next year would be a letdown after making the final four this year.

"If I were to come back next year," Williams said, "it wouldn't be the same. I'd say if we win the tournament, I'd really consider it (turning pro). It would be a safe bet."

The 7-footer is Akeem (The Dreem) Abdul Olajuwon, from Lagos, Nigeria. Olajuwon is a shot-blocking, slam-dunking reserve center who reportedly speaks several languages and is refreshingly naive about the details of American life after living here only 18 months.

Olajuwon has said he is excited about the prospect of playing against Georgetown's 7-footer, Patrick Ewing. Olajuwon started playing basketball just two years ago and said he is still learning how to post up for inside position on offense.

Playmaking guard Lynden Rose, Houston's only senior, is from Nassau, The Bahamas. The forwards, sophomores Michael Young and Clyde Drexler, are smooth and versatile inside players. The starting center, 6-9 Larry Micheaux, is the best outside shooter among the centers in the final four.

Like Louisville and Georgetown, Houston had a midseason slump. The Cougars lost four straight in their conference after starting the season 10-1, including victories over Purdue, Iowa and Louisiana State.

Houston has defeated Alcorn State, No. 10 Tulsa and No. 5 Missouri so far in the championship tournament. And Lewis, who made it to the final four in 1967 and 1968 with Elvin Hayes, said, "I'm not going to even bother to defend my coaching anymore at this stage."