Tigers treat boisterous home fans to blowout win over Cincy
They're still the Bearcats, so this victory was sweet
(22) Memphis 88, Cincinnati 55
By Dan Wolken
January 5, 2007
ESPN broadcast the University of Memphis in high definition on Thursday.
No wonder everything looked a little bit sharper.
For the first six weeks of this season, the No. 22-ranked Tigers' focus had been fuzzy, one thing or another always out of tune. And then, in an 88-55 victory over Cincinnati to launch 2007, the picture finally came through clear.
What was supposed to be a true test before Conference USA play was never a contest. With 12 3-pointers, near-perfect offensive execution and a 42-23 rebounding edge, the Tigers played their most complete game of the season and reduced their former league rivals to rubbish.
The Tigers got to share it with a raucous crowd of 16,223 at FedExForum, which witnessed Memphis' most lopsided victory ever over Cincinnati.
Even senior guard Jeremy Hunt, who tied his career high with 24 points and made 6-of-7 from 3-point range, wasn't sure if Memphis (11-3) could play much better.
"It's a new year, and we got off to a great start just by winning this game," Hunt said. "It's a big confidence builder for a lot of guys, and our team period. I was just happy to see everybody out there smiling and playing together.
"When we look good like that, it shows how really good we can be."
Nearly everything worked for the Tigers, who sprinted to an 11-0 lead in the first three minutes and never looked back, extending it to 18-5, then 27-7, burying the Bearcats on both ends of the floor.
By halftime, it was a 31-point lead, built on 20-of-33 field goal shooting and a lockdown defense that held Cincinnati (9-5) to 30 percent. By the end of the game, after yielding just 21-of-56 from the floor, coach John Calipari said it might have been the best defensive performance in his seven years at Memphis.
"What I liked was, what had happened in practice, there was carryover," Calipari said. "What I put on the board was, 'Perfect practice makes perfect.' What we'd done practicing defensively is what you saw in there."
Though the Tigers may have won the game with defense, they overwhelmed Cincinnati with their precision on offense, making easy plays, extra passes and plenty of long-range shots.
First, Hunt came out firing, making his first four 3-pointers and 6-of-7 overall. Then freshman Willie Kemp followed suit, making six of his first seven to score a career-high 21 points after entering the game 32.1 percent from 3-point range.
"I was taking the wide open shot," Kemp said. "Coach tells us, if we're wide open, take the shot. I think this is one of my best games by far. I think it's going to help me."
All the other parts of Memphis' game were seemingly in line.
Calipari challenged sophomore forward Robert Dozier to get four offensive rebounds Thursday. He got five, sparking a 13-point effort and his best overall game of the season.
Despite scoring just six points, sophomore guard Antonio Anderson had perhaps his most effective game of the year with six assists, five rebounds and no turnovers.
Memphis even had its high-low game working, with 6-11 Kareem Cooper feeding 6-9 Joey Dorsey for a dunk with 13:05 left to give Memphis a 68-33 lead.
That play punctuated a remarkable box score for Dorsey -- 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and, most shocking of all, no fouls.
The domination was so thorough, ESPN pulled away from the game for a while in the second half to show the end of USC's upset at Oregon.
But what the Tigers showed the nation Thursday wasn't as important as what they showed themselves.
"It shows us that if this is what we're capable of, we should do it every game, and I think collectively we realize that," sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "This is Memphis now. This is how we're playing, night in and night out. This is definitely a breakthrough."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365