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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Robert Dozier 's Missing Mojo

Dozier struggling, but teammates confident he'll bounce back

By Jim Masilak
February 10, 2007

Missing: Robert Dozier's mojo.
Description: The conviction to absorb bumps and finish strong while attacking the basket. The determination to grab rebounds, particularly at the offensive end of the court. The confidence to demand the ball in positions best suited to the lanky sophomore forward's considerable offensive strengths.

If found: Please return to the Finch Center, c/o frustrated University of Memphis coach John Calipari, as soon as possible.
This was supposed to be the year Dozier, after a tantalizing rookie season, made good on the potential that often inspires gushing tributes from teammates, coaches and opponents alike.

Out of Shawne Williams' shadow and into the starting lineup for a top-10 club, the 6-9, 215-pounder seemed poised for a breakthrough season.

In actuality, Dozier's performance level has varied wildly for the No. 8-ranked Tigers (20-3, 10-0 in Conference USA) who face Tulane (11-10, 4-5) tonight at 7 at FedExForum.

Even after his lackluster four-point, two-rebound effort during Thursday's victory at UAB, sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts described Dozier as "the most talented forward in the country."

In fact, Dozier's up-and-down season has taken a turn for the worse recently. The softspoken native of Lithonia, Ga., is averaging just 6.5 points and a scarcely credible 1.8 rebounds over his past four games.

"We got by without him (against UAB)," Calipari said. "But when the stakes are raised, without Dozier we can't do this. (He needs to) either get tough and go score and play the way you're capable of playing, or we lose a couple games."

Dozier is the first to admit his play of late has not been up to par.

"I've just got to get my confidence up," he said while sitting on a training table Friday afternoon following a light practice at the Finch Center. "I've just had a rough stretch. Everybody has them. It's a long season.

"But if I want to be a great player, I need to perform. It's on me."

Dozier's teammates say they're not worried about his varying output.

His schizophrenic campaign can perhaps be best summed up by a pair of performances in Hawaii, less than 24 hours apart, in which he went scoreless in a damaging loss to Georgia Tech and then went off for 15 points and seven rebounds in a season-defining victory over Kentucky.

"Right now he's just not making tough shots," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "He'll break through that."

Douglas-Roberts echoed those sentiments, but he also said that Dozier needs to start giving as good as gets from opposing teams.

"We don't worry much about Rob. ... He's going through a little stretch where he's struggling. We'll get him through that," Douglas-Roberts said. "Teams are getting physical with him too, though, and he's gonna have to play through that."

Sophomore guard Antonio Anderson, picking up on that theme, was a bit more blunt in his assessment.

"They're trying to ... push him around," Anderson said. "He's got to have the mentality that he's gonna push back."

Toward that end, upon the completion of Friday's practice, Dozier went not to the locker room but to the weight room in order to get some lifting in before dinner.

"If you come in and lift weights and work hard, you'll feel stronger even if you're not actually getting that much stronger," he said. "It's just something that helps me.

Dozier, despite expressions of support from his teammates, said he feels the pressure to produce.

"I've got to get back to having that little swagger about me," he said. "Coach feels I've lost my edge but I'm gonna get it back."

Dozier points to the Tigers' recent narrow victory over Southern Miss as the beginning of his recent struggles.

"I got real frustrated that game and I've been up and down ever since," he said. "I let the referees get in my head in that game and it bothered me. I've got to get past that and go play and do what I'm capable of doing."

That means being aggressive on the boards -- Calipari asks him to come up with four offensive rebounds each game but never puts a premium on points -- and attacking the basket.

Dozier has been ineffective in recent games when he's received the ball in the post with his back to the basket -- he prefers to go face up -- but he realizes he must become more effective on the blocks against smaller opponents.

"I just need a little confidence," he said. "Then I'll be fine."

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