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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rice vs. Memphis Preview

Rice-Memphis Preview

STATS Senior Writer

Memphis is once again rolling through Conference USA.

After a quick break from their conference schedule, the seventh-ranked Tigers look to wrap up their second straight outright league title and extend the longest winning streak in the country when they host Rice on Thursday.

Memphis (23-3, 12-0 C-USA) has won 15 straight games, dating to a 79-71 loss at then-No. 9 Arizona on Dec. 20. The only other Division I team with a perfect conference record is Winthrop of the Big South.

The Tigers wrapped up at least a share of the C-USA title when Houston lost to Southern Mississippi on Monday. They already have clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

A victory on Thursday would give Memphis, which went 13-1 in C-USA last season, consecutive outright conference titles for the first time in school history. It would also match the Tigers' school record for conference wins.

However, Memphis was the only C-USA team in the top 75 of the RPI entering this week, hurting the Tigers' chances for a high seed in the NCAA tournament.

``It's not that I'm rooting for other people, but what happens is if those teams don't improve, it's hard on us too because now we've got to try to win every game,'' coach John Calipari said. ``You can't win every game. You're not winning every game. You're going to have a bad game, something's going to happen, someone else is going to go crazy.''

Memphis no doubt improved its stock with Saturday's 78-77 overtime win at Gonzaga.

``This felt like an NCAA game,'' said Tigers forward Joey Dorsey, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. ``I told them to let their guys drive to the basket and I would block their shot. So, they depended on me to block their shots.''

Chris Douglas-Roberts, who leads the Tigers with 15.0 points per game, did not have a particularly good outing with 13 points as he shot 6-of-15 from the field and 1-for-4 at the free-throw line. However, the sophomore guard did hit the layup with 5.6 seconds left in overtime that gave Memphis the victory.

``We needed that win,'' Calipari said. ``We needed to find out who could make plays in these situations.''

The Tigers, who lead Conference USA with 79.8 points per game, forced the opposition into at least 18 turnovers for the fourth straight game.

``By far and away they were the most athletic team we have faced this year,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Now, the Tigers return home, where they have won 27 straight - the third-longest streak in the nation. They have won each of their previous three meetings with Rice, including an 84-79 road victory on Feb. 4 last season.

The Owls (13-12, 7-5) have dropped their last two games, including Saturday's 74-63 home defeat to Central Florida. Morris Almond, who ranks among the nation's leading scorers with 27.2 points per game, was held to 13.

Almond has scored in double figures in all but one of 25 games this season and has posted more than 30 points eight times. He scored a season-high 44 points in a 74-69 loss to Vanderbilt on Jan. 2.

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