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Monday, February 26, 2007

Memphis Blows Out Rice, Jeremy Hunt Joins 1,000 Point Club

Hunt provides one small moment of suspense before making his (1,000th) point

By Dan Wolken
February 23, 2007

The first time senior Jeremy Hunt had a chance to notch his 1,000th point at the University of Memphis, he trailed Andre Allen and called for the ball, swishing a 3-pointer that started his celebration.

One problem: A foul away from the play negated the shot.

But just like the Rice Owls, it was only a small inconvenience for the No. 7-ranked Tigers, who clinched the outright Conference USA title Thursday with a 99-63 victory at FedExForum.
Though the game had long since been decided when Hunt got stuck on 999, coach John Calipari left him in and told Hunt to get to the free-throw line. He did with 3:23 left but missed the first and angrily kicked his right leg into the air.

Suddenly, there was a moment of suspense -- but only a moment, and about all the Tigers could muster as they won their nation-leading 16th straight game, improving to 24-3 overall and 13-0 in C-USA.

In a game that was only close for about 13 minutes, they shot 55.1 percent from the field and made 15 of 32 from 3-point range after starting 0-for-7. They had five players score in double-figures, led by freshman Willie Kemp's 20 points. They led by 18 points at halftime, by 24 with 8:43 to go and by 34 in the game's final minutes.

But when Hunt made the second free throw, becoming the 42nd player in Memphis history to score 1,000 points, he smiled and came to the sideline, wrapping coach John Calipari in a hug worthy of his milestone.

"I've got great teammates," said Hunt, who scored 16 points on 5-of-11 from 3-point range. "They give me the ball and before they even pass to me, they tell me to shoot it. We've got confidence in each other, and it's fun to be on a team with guys like that.

"We're just having fun right now."

Though Thursday night was about Hunt, it was also about Rice senior Morris Almond, the nation's third-leading scorer who was being watched by upwards of 20 NBA scouts. Almond scored 15 points with 10 rebounds -- respectable numbers, to be sure -- but he did not come out looking better than Memphis sophomore Antonio Anderson, who chased Almond relentlessly and limited him to just a handful of good looks at the basket.

Almond, who came in averaging 27.2 points, went 5-for-14 from the field with six turnovers.

"That motivated me, trying to lock him down," Anderson said. "(Andre Allen) told me before the game, 'Lock him up.' And I just tried my best."

Anderson's defense seemed to spark his offense, which has been inconsistent at best until the past week. After passing up an open 3-pointer early, Calipari implored Anderson to shoot. And Anderson did just that, making 4-of-8 from the 3-point line on his way to a 14-point, six-assist effort.

One of those 3's, with 10:54 left in the first half, gave Memphis a 16-14 lead and started an avalanche of points that buried Rice, which led briefly in the first half after a 14-2 run.

Hunt picked up on Anderson's momentum, making four first-half threes, the last of which gave Memphis a 41-27 lead 3:36 before halftime. Kemp did the same in the second half, making 4-of-6 from long range and 8-of-10 overall.

"They were open 3's," Calipari said. "I think there are going to be games we play where people are going to have to make a choice of, 'Let's hope they're not making them.'"

Hope is about all C-USA teams have right now of preventing Memphis from steamrolling through the league undefeated. Only once has an opponent played the Tigers within single digits -- Southern Miss on Jan. 27 -- and most of the games have followed Thursday's blowout pattern.

"I think you have to (control the tempo) against this team, and it's not an easy thing to do," Rice coach Willis Wilson said. "It's much more difficult to do than to say."

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