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Monday, November 27, 2006

Tigers Drub Wildcats for 3rd Place in Maui

Tigers rebound from defeat to drub Wildcats for third place
No. 12 U of M 80, No. 20 Kentucky 63

By Dan Wolken
November 23, 2006

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- The things John Calipari had seen on tape from his University of Memphis team were even worse than they appeared in person Tuesday night, but when the Tigers' coach woke up Wednesday morning, he felt nothing but excitement.

"I wanted to see what I had as a team," Calipari said. "I was excited because I don't know."

He does now.

Roughly 19 hours after a dreadful, demoralizing second-half collapse against Georgia Tech, the No. 12-ranked Tigers regrouped in a big way and rolled to a convincing 80-63 victory over No. 20 Kentucky to take third place at the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

But more than the win or beating Kentucky in the schools' first-ever meeting, Memphis leaves Lahaina Civic Center feeling far better about its performance here and its promise for the rest of this season after quickly correcting most of the problems that came to the surface in a 92-85 semifinal loss to Tech.

"That's definitely a big help," sophomore Robert Dozier, who scored a team-high 15 points, said. "If we'd have came out of here with two losses, people would have been looking around, pointing fingers. It feels good to see that we came out with two wins. We regrouped. That's the biggest thing. We haven't lost two games (in a row) since I've been here."

For now, the Tigers don't have to experience what that feels like, thanks to a dominant second half built on point guard Willie Kemp's scoring (12 second-half points), Dozier and Joey Dorsey's rebounding (five each) and relentless driving to the basket by Memphis' guards.

After a closely contested first half that resulted in a 43-40 Memphis lead, Kemp came out hot to start the second, burying two quick 3-pointers and two layups in the first four minutes, lifting the Tigers to a 55-46 edge.

The lead grew from there as Kentucky went more than five minutes without a point and Memphis, which made 16-of-27 field goals in the second half, stormed to a 23-point lead with 8:22 to go. Memphis outrebounded Kentucky 38-27 and scored 44 points in the paint.

Following a second-half against Tech in which the Tigers were outscored 62-39 and outrebounded 29-9, it was a feel-good effort all around, but especially for Kemp, the freshman from Bolivar who had yet to find his rhythm this season.

"They were just there," Kemp said, referring to his 3-pointers that opened the second half. "(Calipari) tells us to take the open shot. Everybody on our team can take the open shot, and I made both of them."

Sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts and senior Jeremy Hunt each had 13 points, with Hunt arguably emerging as the Tigers' catalyst over the three games here. Hunt averaged 12.7 points in the tournament and made 8-of-16 from 3-point range.

Among those were two big 3-pointers on his first two shots against Kentucky, which helped establish an early 15-9 lead and keep the Tigers' momentum going.

In the end, Memphis simply was able to throw more players at Kentucky than the Wildcats could handle, especially after a hard-fought 73-68 loss to No. 5 UCLA in the semifinals Tuesday night.

"It looked like we kind of hit the wall in the second half," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

While Kentucky was hitting the wall, Memphis was breaking through it and in the process answered several questions that can now be spun forward into the next part of the schedule, which resumes with three straight home games beginning Nov. 29 against Arkansas State.

"We went south for 20 minutes, and I wanted to know, were they tough enough?" Calipari said. "Did they have character? Could they come back? Could they do it together? And it was a resounding yes, thank goodness, because it would have been a long trip for us back."

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