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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Hunt Is Spartplug As Tigers Hold Off Lamar

Hunt is sparkplug as Tigers hold off Lamar

(22) Tigers 87, Lamar 62

By Dan Wolken
December 29, 2006

It's been the worst-kept secret in town. Anybody who has watched the University of Memphis in recent weeks could have deduced that a starting role for senior guard Jeremy Hunt was only a matter of time.

Thursday, Hunt got his start. Sort of.

Starting the second half in place of foul-plagued Antonio Anderson, Hunt needed just one sequence -- and one scorer's table -- to spark the No. 22-ranked Tigers once again in an 87-62 victory over Lamar University.
Though Thursday wasn't one of Hunt's best overall performances this season -- he scored 12 points and went 2-for-13 from the field -- two plays early in the second half showed how invaluable he's been for Memphis, which improved to 10-3.

With the Tigers struggling to pull away from Lamar (5-8) and failing to establish a favorable pace, Hunt hit a 3-pointer with 16:35 left that gave Memphis a 48-32 lead. Then, seconds later, he dove into the scorer's table to intercept an outlet pass, leading to a transition opportunity that Robert Dozier converted for a layup, igniting the announced crowd of 16,154 at FedExForum and sparking Memphis to a second half that looked much better than the first.

"The key play in the game was when Jeremy Hunt dove for that ball," sophomore center Kareem Cooper said. "From there, we picked it up. Once he did that, it was all clicking and clicking."

For Memphis, clicking in the game's final 16 minutes helped cover up some of the scars from the first 24.

Against Lamar, the Tigers reverted tobad habits: Missing layups, failing to secure rebounds and making just 1-of-7 free-throws in the first half.

Though the Tigers led 38-28, it was perhaps their worst 20 minutes since Dec. 6, when they lost 76-58 at Tennessee. Fortunately for Memphis, Lamar wasn't much better, going 7-for-32 from the field and 10-for-17 from the free-throw line. The Cardinals, coached by former Memphis assistant Steve Roccaforte, also committed 14 turnovers in the half and 24 total.

"We played great defense but our offense was just terrible," sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who scored a team-high 19 points, said. "When you hold a team to 26 percent you should be up at least 20 points"

Despite the Tigers scoring 50 points in the paint and committing just two second-half turnovers, Lamar was the more aggressive team on the boards and routinely beat the Tigers to loose balls. And Tigers coach John Calipari could only imagine how much better than 43.2 percent Memphis would have shot the ball if only it had made half the two-footers it missed.

"Any time you're disgusted with a 25-point win, you probably have your expectations pretty high," Calipari said. "We just played... I don't know how we played. To watch it, it's painful. We're not going to be able to do that to teams in our league, to just say we'll press and play and jam it in there. You've got to play offense and make plays and make layups and make open shots. Defensively, I saw some good stuff, but we've got a ways to go."

Hunt has been the exception to Calipari's frustrations all season. Though he had an off shooting night against Lamar, he's been the Tigers' most consistent player and even found a way to impact the game when he wasn't scoring in bunches.

Despite starting the second half, Hunt said he wouldn't lobby to make it permanent.

"Coming off the bench is good too because I want to just do what I do, and I can do that starting or coming off the bench. It doesn't matter," Hunt said. "(Anderson) had three fouls, so it was just a one-time thing. It was good. I just had to pick it up."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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