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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tigers' Defense Is Altering Games

Tigers' defense is altering games

By Dan Wolken
January 16, 2007

Just 1 minute, 51 seconds into last Thursday's game at Houston, Cougars guard Robert McKiver drove past University of Memphis sophomore Robert Dozier for what appeared to be a good scoring opportunity.

Forward Joey Dorsey slid from one side of the lane to the other, swatting McKiver's layup well before it got halfway to the rim. Just a few minutes later, Marcus Malone tried the same thing. This time, Dorsey didn't just block it, he literally redirected it all the way to the scorer's table, sending a clear message that is now resonating all around Conference USA.

When Dorsey is on the floor for the No. 17-ranked Tigers, penetrate the paint at your own peril.

Of all the reasons behind a series of stellar performances by Memphis heading into tonight's game against UAB at FedExForum, none has been more worthy of attention than the Tigers' shot blocking, which has made them even more formidable defensively over the past two weeks.

Though Dorsey was in many ways the star of Memphis' 79-69 win at Houston with three blocks and 10 rebounds, he was even better at Southern Miss, recording six blocks along with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

"Right now, Joey is performing his role on this team better than anyone else is performing their role," coach John Calipari said. "Is he our best player? I don't know, but I do know, he's got a role on this team: Rebound, block shots, dunk balls, have a presence physically, be imposing. He's doing his job better than anybody else."

And Dorsey isn't the only one shining defensively. Dozier, a 6-9 forward, had three blocks at Houston and altered several shots with his 7-3 wingspan.

The cumulative effect was obvious. With Dozier and Dorsey both playing well at the same time, Houston and Southern Miss were far less eager to challenge Memphis' defense and finished with just 18 and 14 points in the paint, respectively.

"With those two guys blocking shots -- it's not even if they block it, even if they come out and swing at them -- (the opponent) is coming to the hole intimidated," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "It's great to have two players like that out there trying to block everything without fouling."

Though Memphis is widely regarded as one of the best man-to-man defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to 38.1 percent field-goal shooting, the Tigers are starting to feel confident that they now can count on two shot blockers to erase defensive mistakes.

Dorsey, now ninth on Memphis' all-time list with 150 career blocks, has been in foul trouble only once over the past eight games, amplifying his impact because he's playing more minutes.

"It changes us a lot," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "We put a lot of pressure on the guards, and there's times when you're going to get beat. When you get beat, you've got those two guys blocking the ball back there, and it helps us out a lot.

"There's times when Joey and Rob tell us, 'Man, let them guys go to the hole. We've got y'all.' We don't do it, but if they get by us, it's an automatic block."

UAB coach Mike Davis said it was crucial to not allow what his players saw on tape from Southern Miss and Houston to make them less aggressive or impact their offensive approach.

"The guys they have inside, Dorsey and Dozier and those guys, they're very good basketball players," Davis said. "Right now, Coach Cal has those guys playing with a high level of energy and you have to just play your game. If they block it, they block it but you can't worry about it. ... If we're timid in any area, we're going to be in trouble."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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No. 17 Tigers vs. UAB

When, where: Today, 8 p.m., at FedExForum

TV, radio: CSTV (Ch. 222 on Comcast digital cable), WREC-AM (600)

Tickets: Call 678-2331, go to gotigersgo.com

Podcast: Dan Wolken discusses the game at TheMemphisEdge.com

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