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Monday, February 19, 2007

Commercial Appeal - #8 Tigers 78, Gonzaga 77 in OT

Douglas-Roberts scores winning bucket in OT
No. 8 Tigers 78, Gonzaga 77 (OT)

By Dan Wolken
February 18, 2007

SPOKANE, Wash. -- They flew four hours and played 40 minutes, and suddenly, the test they were waiting for, the challenge they had been asking for, was staring at the University of Memphis Tigers.

Their large second-half lead was gone. Their offense had sputtered through an agonizing 11 minutes. Their No. 8 national ranking, and their high NCAA Tournament seeding, was teetering on the edge of ridicule.

But in a thrilling overtime that could very well define Memphis' season, the Tigers got two 3-pointers from senior guard Jeremy Hunt and a game-winning jumper by sophomore Chris Douglas-Roberts with five seconds left for a 78-77 victory over Gonzaga.

And more than the victory, which pushed Memphis to 23-3 and perhaps into next week's top five, the Tigers made a remarkable discovery. After playing 25 games without even being pushed to the wire, the Tigers had to dig deeper than ever to overcome a Gonzaga team that played with tremendous grit in front of 11,272 fans at sold-out Spokane Arena.

"We needed that," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "I don't want to say we let them back in the game or whether they just fought back, it was one of the two. But whatever, we needed that. And we needed to find out who would make plays in these situations."

For a long while, this one had the potential to be as routine as many of Memphis' victories this season. The Tigers had gotten the better in a ragged first half, taking an eight-point lead that they expanded to 13 after back-to-back 3-pointers and a baseline jumper by sophomore guard Antonio Anderson, all within three minutes early in the second half.

But with its hopes of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament potentially on the line, Gonzaga (18-10) chipped away at the lead, even with sophomore forward Josh Heytvelt out because of a suspension and senior forward Sean Mallon injured for most of the second half. As Memphis missed free throws (9-of-16 in the second half) and made just two field goals in the final 11 minutes, Gonzaga gathered momentum.

A 3-pointer by David Pendergraft got Gonzaga to 69-67 with 1:57 to go, and a jumper by Jeremy Pargo tied the score with 1:02 left. After a bad Memphis possession ending with a missed runner by Anderson, Gonzaga had the ball with 24 seconds left and a chance to win.

But in the Tigers' finest defensive sequence of the season, they didn't even allow Gonzaga to get a shot off, as Pargo dribbled out the clock without getting inside the 3-point arc.

"If you're going to have the ball in your hands like that, you've got to get a shot up on the rim," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Or kick it to somebody else so they can get a shot up. You can't do what we did there."

As overtime neared, two sub-plots were playing out on the Memphis bench with two players who struggled for much of the afternoon. One involved Hunt, who didn't play down the stretch of regulation after going 0-for-4 from the field and committing three turnovers. The other involved Douglas-Roberts, who despite his 13 points had trouble finishing for much the game.

Despite missing the mark in regulation, Hunt didn't hesitate in overtime, swishing a transition, off-balance 3-pointer with 2:59 left to put Memphis ahead by two. Then, after Gonzaga had taken the lead back at 75-73 on two free throws by Derek Raivio (21 points), Hunt answered with another lead-grabbing 3-pointer from the opposite wing with 1:13 left.

"I was making some mental errors, wasn't really playing my game," Hunt said. "I wasn't stepping up and making easy plays. They told me, just keep my head up. There's going to be a big play. In overtime, my teammates found me, and the second shot, I just wanted to make a big play for my team so we could win."

After Joey Dorsey (15 points, 12 rebounds), missed two free throws with 47 seconds left, Abdullahi Kuso made two with 17 seconds left that put Gonzaga back on top by a point.

Calipari called for a clear-out on the right side to let Douglas-Roberts operate. After his first attempt was swatted out of bounds with nine seconds left, Douglas-Roberts used his second chance to bank in a running 9-footer from the baseline. Then, the Tigers survived Pargo's 25-foot attempt at a game-winner.

"It's a big step," Anderson said. "Coming way out here, the environment was crazy. It was probably the hardest place I've played since I've been at Memphis, but guys came up big. It just shows how tough we are as a team."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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