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Friday, January 12, 2007

Tigers Find 3-Point Touch in Win Over Houston

Tigers finally find their 3-point touch in win over Houston
(20) Tigers 79, Houston 69

By Dan Wolken
January 12, 2007

HOUSTON -- The Houston Cougars bobbed and weaved, created room and created chaos. All the University of Memphis did was shoot straight.

Fueled by the most efficient 3-point shooting performance of the season, the No. 20-ranked Tigers pulled off a surprising role reversal on Thursday night, winning a fast-paced, 79-69 decision in front of a Hofheinz Pavilion crowd of 4,804.

All week, Memphis coach John Calipari fretted about Houston's sometimes erratic but potentially dangerous 3-point game. But instead, the Tigers stung Houston by making 10-of-16 from long range and converting 60 percent of their field-goal attempts, playing their drive-and-kick offense almost to perfection and improving to 12-3 overall, 2-0 in Conference USA.

Houston, picked No. 2 in C-USA's preseason poll, fell to 5-8 and 0-1 in the league.

"We shot the ball extremely well," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "We've been working on it in practice. It's been a hard week for us, but we fought through it. They made some shots, but we got the lead and held on strong the rest of the game."

For the Tigers' first 15 games, as they struggled on the road and played erratically for long stretches, Calipari insisted his team was doing one thing right: Getting far more wide-open looks out of its offense than it did a year ago.

Now, Memphis is finally converting some, and the difference was clear Thursday.

Whereas the Tigers fell apart in road games at Tennessee and Arizona, unable to make key baskets and halt runs, they were calm and aggressive here. After Memphis grabbed a 14-point halftime lead, Houston pushed the Tigers at several moments. Every time, the Tigers pushed back.

And really, Houston's 3-point shooting wasn't much of a factor. Though guard Robert McKiver got some good looks, scoring 27 points on 7-of-13 from the 3-point line, the rest of the team went 3-for-12 as Memphis alertly defended Houston's constantly weaving offense.

"We practiced with their weaves," said freshman Doneal Mack, who scored 11 points and made two big 3-pointers in the first half. "We practiced that for the last week and we knew what they were planning on doing, weaving and shooting threes. So when we got in the game, it showed."

Though Memphis got off to a good start, taking a 14-5 lead in the first 5:14 capped by senior Jeremy Hunt's 3-pointer, it was a late first-half run that gave the Tigers a double-digit cushion they held nearly the rest of the way.

After a McKiver 3-pointer closed the gap to 29-26, Memphis center Kareem Cooper scored on a lefty hook shot just 10 seconds later, Mack made a leaner from eight feet on the next possession, and Anderson scored six straight points to key an 18-4 run.

Suddenly, the Tigers led 47-30 and appeared on their way to a blowout. But McKiver hit a 3-pointer at the end of the half to get within 14, then made another on the first possession of the second half when he got freshman Willie Kemp to bite on a ball fake.

Seconds later, Kemp committed a turnover on an ill-advised entry pass, and a furious Calipari pulled him in favor of Andre Allen just 49 seconds into the half. With Allen back in control, the Tigers quickly pushed the lead from nine back to 17, with an Allen steal and breakaway layup giving the Tigers a 61-44 edge with 14:16 to go.

Though the Cougars closed the gap to 13 and 11 several times, Memphis kept them at bay when necessary. One of the reasons was uncanny shot distribution, with none of Memphis' nine players taking more than nine shots. Four Tigers scored in double-figures, led by sophomore Chris Douglas-Roberts' 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

"I thought we were good," Calipari said. "They weave and play a little different style. We may never see that again until we play them again, and I thought we did a fairly good job. The second half, they made some shots, and we had some miscommunications but it was really them just making shots."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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