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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Getting Physical Is Sound Game Plan Against Tigers

Getting physical is sound plan against Tigers
Calipari preaches mental toughness for U of M

By Dan Wolken
January 30, 2007

East Carolina tried it and played with the University of Memphis for a half. Southern Miss tried it and nearly beat the No. 11-ranked Tigers -- twice. And really, it's how UCLA prevented Memphis from going to the Final Four last March.
Want to take down the Tigers? Or at least give yourselves a chance?

Here's what you do. Every time Antonio Anderson or Chris Douglas-Roberts drives, put a body in his path and initiate contact. Every time Jeremy Hunt or Robert Dozier cuts, bump him. Every time Joey Dorsey gets the ball one-on-one, foul him.
Force referees to make decisions. Force Memphis to make free throws. Hack and hope.

This isn't a secret, by the way. It's on practically every game film from the last two weeks. And with a key Conference USA matchup at Central Florida looming on Wednesday, it's something the Tigers will have to adjust to pretty much the rest of the way.

"Probably so," Douglas-Roberts said. "But it's just like practice. If you see in practice, we barely can score on each other because we're fouling each other every play. We're bumping every play."

Though Memphis is seemingly cruising along at 17-3 overall and 7-0 in C-USA, the Tigers have not had a free pass, and it's no coincidence the teams they've struggled with (Southern Miss, East Carolina) tried to rough them up while teams Memphis beat handily (Houston, UAB) did not try to make the game physical.

When Memphis' attacking offense is allowed to get in a flow, the open looks abound and opponents can't score enough to keep up. When the Tigers are getting slowed down with bumps and contact, the game sometimes looks ugly.

Against Southern Miss on Saturday, the Tigers made just 20-of-52 from the field. The reason? The Golden Eagles initiated contact on practically every drive, barely allowing Memphis an easy scoring opportunity.

"We'd rather have teams come in playing like that instead of teams coming in scared of you," Hunt, a senior, said. "It's good to have teams coming in thinking they're going to beat you because you know you can't take possessions off, and you know it's going to be a good game."

The problem Saturday -- and perhaps going forward -- is that Memphis couldn't combat that game plan until the very end. Why? The Tigers took too many wild, contested shots and couldn't finish around the rim, and they failed to convert free throws for much of the second half, going 12-of-25 including four straight missed front-ends once they got into the bonus.

With Memphis now shooting 61.5 percent from the line this season, putting free-throw shooters to the test seems like a reasonable strategy.

Though there's only so much he can do about that issue, coach John Calipari spent Monday preaching mental toughness.

"I know they don't know what (mental toughness) means and what we have to do to improve in that area to finish this out," Calipari said. "But we've got to start now.

"This game for us is the next challenge. Is this one we can go down there and shoot 40 percent from the line and miss every three? No. You're going to lose. We've got to go down with a sense of purpose that it's a big-time game, and it is."

Though UCF coach Kirk Speraw hopes to challenge Memphis more than anybody has so far this season, he laughed at the suggestion his team would be able to do it by playing the same way Southern Miss did.

"We might need to be in the weight room two more years," Speraw said, "before we can get physical with Memphis."

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