With leading scorer still out, Tigers will their way past Tulsa
(11) Tigers 72, Tulsa 59
By Dan Wolken
January 25, 2007
They have not looked quite like themselves; not completely. Without leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts in the lineup, the University of Memphis has had to grind and defend, outlast opponents instead of pull away, endure stretches when its offense seems slightly out of sorts.
But there is nothing askew about the Tigers' Conference USA record, or their results. With Douglas-Roberts on the bench for a third straight game because of a sprained right ankle, the No. 11-ranked Tigers beat Tulsa 72-59 before a FedExForum crowd of 15,760.
Though Douglas-Roberts warmed up and was in uniform Wednesday, Memphis ultimately didn't need him. Despite shooting just 39.7 percent from the field and getting outrebounded 46-41, Memphis led practically the whole way and carried a double-digit margin most of the second half.
By winning their eighth consecutive game, the Tigers improved to 16-3 overall and 6-0 in Conference USA. Tulsa fell to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in the league.
"We made a lot of mistakes," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "We missed a lot of shots, made a couple dumb plays we shouldn't have made, but that's part of basketball. You're going to do things like that. As long as we come out with the win, I'm satisfied."
Still, the hole left by Douglas-Roberts' absence has seemed far bigger than his 6-6 frame, significantly greater than the 14.8 points per game he provides. And after a lethargic effort Saturday at East Carolina -- a game the Tigers won 61-44 -- Douglas-Roberts badly wanted to get back in the lineup.
But once again, his sore ankle forced him to watch what the Tigers are like without him: A team that struggles with its offensive spacing, a team that can go long stretches without scoring and a team that struggles to close out opponents.
To wit, the Tigers led Tulsa by 14 when sophomore Robert Dozier made two free throws with 7:33 left in the first half, but that margin shrank to 38-30 at halftime.
When Memphis pushed the lead to 16 in the second half, Tulsa came right back. Despite making 21-of-62 field goals and committing 18 turnovers, Tulsa pulled to 58-47 with 7:50 to go.
Only by the sheer will of sophomore guard Antonio Anderson were the Tigers able to halt Tulsa's momentum there, as he snatched a loose ball off his own missed jumper and fed freshman Doneal Mack for a driving slam. The Tigers couldn't exhale until Mack's 3-pointer with 4:45 left, which gave Memphis a 65-49 lead.
"It's definitely different (without Douglas-Roberts)," Anderson said. "He's our main guy on offense, and without him, other guys have to make other plays."
The Tigers made those plays mostly on the defensive end and on the glass. They outscored Tulsa 27-9 off turnovers and gave the Golden Hurricane problems inside, with junior forward Joey Dorsey scoring 13 points with 11 rebounds and Robert Dozier scoring 12 and grabbing nine boards.
"I thought we played with them; I just thought we gave them too many layups," Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. "Last year, we only had 11 turnovers here, and it makes a world of difference between 18 and 11. Of those seven, probably five of them are layups. If you take away those layups we gave them, I think we battle them."
The good news for Memphis is that Douglas-Roberts should return soon, probably Saturday against Southern Miss.
"More than likely, I'm going to be playing," he said. "Doc told me it's going to hurt, but I asked him, will it heal if I play on it? And he said yeah, so that's all I needed to know."
And it can't come quickly enough for Tigers coach John Calipari, who was happy with the win but not with the Tigers' effort.
"Kareem Cooper in the second half tried to play harder than the other guy instead of just being out there," Calipari said. "Other guys, they don't understand what it means to compete and they still do fine. But my thing is, we need to try to compete against us, not the other team. Let's compete against us and what we're trying to do."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365