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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tigers Must Contest Far-Flinging Cougars

Tigers must contest far-flinging Cougars

By Dan Wolken
January 11, 2007

HOUSTON -- Senior Jeremy Hunt was two feet behind the NBA 3-point line and had a hand in his face. He shot the ball anyway, and as it hit the bottom of the net, University of Memphis coach John Calipari raised his arms in the air.

"Great defense!" Calipari exclaimed during a defensive drill at the Finch Center on Tuesday.

But the shot went in, didn't it?

Calipari didn't care. Sometimes, there's only so much you can do, which is precisely the challenge No. 20 Memphis faces tonight from the University of Houston in a Conference USA matchup.

The Tigers know this much. At Hofheinz Pavilion tonight, the Cougars will likely shoot between 30 and 40 times from 3-point range, as they have in nearly every game this year. Many of them will appear to be wild, crazy, ill-advised shots. Many of them will be well-defended and come from several feet beyond the college 3-point line.

And what if a bunch of them go in?

"They're scoring nearly 40 points a game from the 3-point line," Calipari said. "What if they make 60 (points) from the 3-point line? You're going to lose. It's a dangerous game because of how they play."

It's the way Houston has to play, according to coach Tom Penders, whose team was picked to finish second in C-USA but enters league play with a disappointing 5-7 record.

As Penders explained, the problem isn't that Houston takes essentially half its shots from 3-point range -- 33.4 attempts per game -- it's that the Cougars have only made 33.7 percent.

And Houston hasn't had any individual standouts from long range, with Dion Dowell making a team-high 39.6 percent.

"We've got a lot of guys that are capable of shooting threes, but we've had very few games where we put it all together," Penders said. "We might have one or two guys hitting. We've had a couple nights where we couldn't get anybody cracking, but we're taking good shots for the most part.

"When we're on, we can be lethal."

And when they're off, the Cougars can look plain bad, like they did Dec. 29 when they made just 5-of-36 against UNLV and lost, 78-62.

But Calipari isn't counting on Houston to shoot that poorly. On the other hand, there's only so much defensive scheming Memphis can do, other than rely on its usual man-to-man, which has held opponents to 31.1 percent on 3-pointers.

"You really can't defend it because they're going to shoot them anyway," junior point guard Andre Allen said. "We just have to make it hard and keep a hand up and hope they miss."

In many ways, simply remembering to have a hand up will be Memphis' best defense tonight, especially with long-armed guards and forwards like Chris Douglas-Roberts and Robert Dozier, who is tough to shoot over with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

"You've got to contest them," Dozier said. "That's the biggest thing. They're going to take them, shoot them from deep. They're going to come off screens and shoot from everywhere. We've just got to contest them and get a hand up on them."

According to Penders, Houston's 3-point infatuation is a product of two things: First, the desire to play a fast, Phoenix Suns-style offense. More important, it's Houston's lack of size, which typically prevents his team from scoring interior baskets on anything but dribble drives and offensive rebounds.

"Until we get a force on the interior, that's the way it's going to be," Penders said. "That's who we are, and we're going to be that way until next year. We've got a 6-11 transfer from Seton Hall, Marcus Cousin, who's a very strong and talented inside player, but we won't have him until next season, so we are who we are.

"It would be nice if you could go inside and get something done. We can go inside, but we're not going to get a whole lot done."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365


No. 20 Tigers at Houston

When, where: Today, 8 p.m., at Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston

TV, radio: ESPN, WREC-AM (600)

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