Friday, January 05, 2007
Geoff Calkins Column on Bearcat Game
They're still the Bearcats, so this victory was sweet
January 5, 2007
Jeremy Hunt accepted the pass on the left wing, pulled up for a three, and the crowd start to roar even before he let it go.
They knew, and Hunt knew, and poor Mick Cronin probably knew, too.
Or maybe we should say swish swish swish swish.
That made four straight threes from Hunt, all from NBA range.
Cronin called a timeout. As if that could possibly stop the onslaught.
Memphis went on to obliterate the Bearcats, 88-55, on a night that was just about perfect.
It wasn't absolutely perfect because Hunt actually missed his fifth 3-pointer. And because of the absence of Bob Huggins, the glowering one, who took much of the pop out of this rivalry when he staggered off to Kansas State.
It's just harder to hate Mick Cronin. Or even to recognize Mick Cronin.
The Byrd brothers are two of the great hecklers at any Memphis game. They've gotten into it with Rick Pitino and Tommy Crean and Huggins and all of great ones.
Before this game, they were a little stumped.
"What do you think I should say?" said Harold Byrd.
"I guess I'll have to wait and get a feel for him," he said.
Sounds reasonable enough.
And before long, all sorts of taunts were available. Like the ever-popular, "You're losing 11-0." Or, the equally-catchy "You realize the score is 27-7?" Or the positively-historic "This is the worst beating in the 65 meetings between these two teams."
It was fun, really. All that was missing was Nick Van Exel, and Steve Logan, and Danny Fortson, and Kenyon Martin and, oh, you probably still have nightmares about some of them.
But if you can't beat a great Cincinnati team, you might as well stomp on a crummy one.
Which the Tigers did, to the absolute delight of the 16,223 who showed up because they recognized the jerseys, anyway.
"I told Mick after that we're probably not as good as we played," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "They had to feel like we had six guys on the floor."
And all six were playing great, answering most of the the questions the Tigers had raised in the 2006 portion of this basketball season.
Were you worried that Robert Dozier wasn't tough enough?
He yanked down five offensive rebounds.
Did you wonder if Joey Dorsey could ever stay out of foul trouble?
He had no fouls, 10 rebounds and five blocks in 27 minutes.
Did you fret that Willie Kemp wasn't quite getting it?
He scored 21 points, played tenacious defense and afterward proclaimed it his best game of the season.
Had you come to accept that these Tigers just didn't have the shooters?
Kemp went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc. Hunt went 6-for-7 from deep to finish with 24.
"Every time it left his hand, everyone in the building knew it was going down," said Calipari of Hunt.
And here's the best part: None of this seems to have been an accident.
The Tigers played well because the Tigers practiced well during the holiday break.
"There was carryover," Calipari said. "I wrote on the board after the game, 'Perfect practice makes perfect.'"
OK, it's not as snappy as "Refuse to Lose." Or as cosmically profound as "It is what it is."
But Calipari's teams always seem to get better this time of year. If these Tigers want to make an impact in the NCAA Tournament, they have to go out and do the same.
"We did that tonight," said Calipari. "We went out and dominated."
Sounds like a taunt, almost.
To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail.