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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Calipari Prescribes Tougher Practice for Lethargic Tigers

Calipari prescribes tougher practice for lethargic Tigers

By Dan Wolken
December 9, 2006

When the University of Memphis's schedule turned, nearly two weeks ago, into a mad dash of games and travel with little time for a breather, coach John Calipari's natural inclination was to back off.

He acknowledged Friday he probably should have pushed harder.

Because when Calipari watched the Tigers lose this week to Tennessee, he didn't see their fight. Didn't see their energy. Didn't see all the traits they spent the preseason building.
So when Memphis resumed practice Friday to prepare for today's noon tipoff at FedExForum against Ole Miss -- the Tigers' fifth game in 11 days -- the message was clear: Get back to competing.

And compete is exactly what the Tigers did in a session far longer and far more intense than the normal pregame practice.

"I probably made a mistake in that we went too cerebral and not enough competitive," Calipari said.

"So we go to Tennessee, and they play with a spirit that we (normally) play with, and we didn't play the same way. ... To just kind of want it more than we did comes back to me and says, 'Where was that competitive spirit we usually have?'

"We had so many games, our practices were hour walk-throughs. So we got used to walking through. Then we went up there and walked through."

One thread that unites nearly every college basketball coach is the importance of practice, since it usually doesn't take much for a team of 18- to 22-year-olds to slip.

Ever since Nov. 20, when the Tigers opened the EA Sports Maui Invitational against Oklahoma, the schedule hasn't allowed a solid string of practices.

In the past week, for instance, Memphis played Manhattan last Saturday, had a walk-through Sunday to prepare for Marshall, played again Monday and then had another walk-through Tuesday before flying to Knoxville.

It might have caught up with them against the Vols.

"We didn't challenge ourselves since Hawaii," Calipari said.

"We couldn't. It's been a game, a day, a game, a day ... we haven't competed like we had earlier in practice, and we have to get back to it."

Of course, what made things complex Friday is that Memphis, against the Vols, looked like a team that needed a rest.

And the fact that the Tigers made just 28.6 percent of their shots -- including several they normally make -- lends credence to the idea they were fatigued.

"It probably did play a factor in the game, but at the same time we still could have came out and played better than what we did," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said.

"We got beat to balls once again, and they made shots, a lot of shots. Some of our shots were wide open, and we missed it by a lot."

But now, can the Tigers push through for one more effort today against Ole Miss before a mini-break of five days?

"We can," Hunt said. "We had a day's rest (on Thursday), and hopefully everybody got their legs back."

Sophomore center Kareem Cooper will likely make his season debut today.

Cooper was suspended in the preseason for violating team rules but returned to practice after the Maui Invitational.

The 6-11 Cooper sat on the Tigers' bench in their past three home games but was not in uniform.

Calipari said the impetus for playing Cooper today is that he had "taken care of business" academically.

"He's not in any kind of shape to go in that game and do anything, but I'm in all likelihood going to play him," Calipari said.

Junior forward Joey Dorsey will start, Calipari said, despite his statements following the Tennessee game that he might bring Dorsey off the bench because of his tendency to get in foul trouble.

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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