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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tigers' Dorsey Overcoming Early Problems With Fouls

Tigers' Dorsey overcoming early problems with fouls

By Dan Wolken
January 2, 2007

He had been called out by his coach and criticized by his teammates, but it was in the Department of Motor Vehicles, of all places, that University of Memphis junior Joey Dorsey heard it the loudest.

"I was in the DMV to get my license," Dorsey said, "and one of the fans came up to me and said, 'You're Joey Dorsey. Why don't you stay out of foul trouble? You're killing us.'"

Though it may have been an odd setting for such a confrontation, nothing in Dorsey's orbit lately has been quite what it appears.

After No. 22 Memphis' meltdown at Tennessee on Dec. 6 -- a loss Dorsey absorbed much of the blame for -- he's arguably been the Tigers' most consistent force, playing some of his best basketball in a very under-the-radar manner heading into Thursday's game against Cincinnati.

Over the past five games, Dorsey is averaging 7.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, but more than the statistics, he's been on the floor 23 minutes per game and has largely avoided the foul trouble that, until now, characterized his career.

In many ways, it has been a remarkable turnaround given how desperate the situation seemed at Tennessee, when coach John Calipari threatened to bench Dorsey after he committed two fouls in the first 2:09.

The most plausible explanation, according to Calipari, is the return of sophomore backup Kareem Cooper, who was suspended through the Tennessee game. Ever since then, Dorsey has had a legitimate competitor for his spot in the starting lineup.

"I think Kareem coming back with a really solid attitude to this point and then a solid game kind of puts pressure on him," Calipari said. "So if you're playing poorly, you don't play."

Another key, Dorsey said, is that he hasn't tried to force the issue offensively, embracing his role as a rebounder and shot-blocker. Though Dorsey is on track for career-high scoring numbers -- he scored 6.9 points per game last year -- it's been because of his defense and transition opportunities, not his post-up game. With Cooper averaging 9.8 points off the bench, Dorsey said he feels no pressure to score.

"I've been trying not to score the ball as much and let the game come to me, so I won't pick up fouls and leave my team hanging out there on the floor," Dorsey said. "Just rebounding. ... I'm helping my team by just thinking about rebounding."

Calipari has encouraged his players in recent weeks to embrace their strengths, a message targeted to Dorsey as much as anyone.

"He knows if he worries about scoring and plays that way, I'm putting (Cooper) in," Calipari said. "It's like, 'Oh my gosh, he could start him, and he's a better offensive player, so I've got to prove that I'm the best defender and best rebounder."

Cooper's presence has also given Dorsey more freedom to play aggressively, knowing that if he does encounter foul trouble, it won't be as disastrous as it was early in the season.

A prime example was at Arizona on Dec. 20, the only game in this recent stretch when Dorsey has been in foul trouble. Despite picking up two in the first half, the impact was barely noticeable. Dorsey played effectively in his 18 minutes, scoring eight points with 11 rebounds, while Cooper scored 11 points in 22 minutes.

"He's comfortable," Cooper said. "He knows if he gets two (fouls), he knows the guy behind him is still going to provide a presence in the paint. As long as he keeps playing the way he's playing and I play the way I play, we should be able to win games."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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