Holiday's over for U of M pressure
By Dan Wolken
December 23, 2006
When the University of Memphis began this season, coach John Calipari thought the team might have to use its full-court press to make up for other shortcomings.
But deep into December, the No. 18 Tigers have used the press less and less, practically abandoning it in Wednesday's 79-71 loss at Arizona.
So when the Tigers take the FedExForum floor today against Middle Tennessee State, it's clear what their most pressing issue will be.
"We haven't used it in a while, but we're going to start our press (today)," assistant coach John Robic said. "We have to get back to that. That's something as a staff we've talked about, to regain our identity a little bit."
Last season, Memphis installed its run-and-press system, which quickly became part of the program's fabric as the Tigers rolled to a 33-4 record.
But Memphis has struggled at times this year to get much out of its press, especially against quality opponents like Georgia Tech and Tennessee, neither of which were rattled by the Tigers' pressure.
Even Austin Peay had a fairly easy time breaking the press for about 20 minutes on Dec. 14 after committing a handful of turnovers early.
One of the reasons, senior guard Jeremy Hunt said, is general confusion.
Though a full-court press can often look like nothing more than chaos, it's actually an intricate system in which every player on the court must understand his responsibility, or else give up an easy layup in transition.
"I think we need a lot of work on the press," Hunt said. "We still have a couple guys, including myself from time to time, who get messed up. We're sometimes lost on the press, but as long as we get back and play halfcourt defense and hold a team to the percent we want them to, we'll be good."
For Memphis, which can use up to 10 players in a given game, speeding things up with a press seems like a natural fit, especially in Conference USA, where the Tigers can win many nights simply by having more athletes than the opponent.
That the Tigers have gotten away from it lately isn't by choice.
Against Arizona, Memphis backed off the press partly because sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts was suffering from a stomach ailment. But that was only part of the story.
"We couldn't get in it, to be honest with you," coach John Calipari said after the game. "We were trying to get in it, and we couldn't."
One of the reasons, Robic said, is that Arizona was getting the ball inbounds too quickly for Memphis to set up in a press.
"It worked the one time we used it; early in the game we got a turnover," Robic said. "They get the ball in so fast that, it's tough to press a team that does that. And with Chris being sick and starting the game off right there, we just didn't think he had the energy to be able to do it. We had the game going up and down fast enough anyway. Normally when we press it's to get teams to play faster than they normally do."
Sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said today would be a prime opportunity to get some work in on the press with just three games left until C-USA play begins.
"We backed off a little bit because Chris was sick and he's a big part of it there up front with me," Anderson said.
"Some guys don't know it too well like we do, since they put it in last year and we were here for that. That was a big part of it. We'll be back in it (today). Chris is feeling a whole lot better and he's moving better, so we'll be in it."
-- Dan Wolken, 529-2365