Tigers rip Knights, show they rule C-USA big top
No. 11 Tigers 87, UCF 65
By Dan Wolken
February 1, 2007
ORLANDO -- There were creatures of all kinds on the floor at sold-out UCF Arena during the pregame introductions Wednesday; mascots from two local high schools, the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in addition to Central Florida's own "Knightro," dressed from head to toe in shiny gold.
Indeed, the circus was in town for the most highly-anticipated basketball game ever played at Central Florida. But the University of Memphis wasn't in the mood to clown around. And as the No. 11-ranked Tigers proved in an 87-65 victory, they are still the greatest show on any Conference USA court.
With fans practically hanging from the rafters and ready to rush the court, the Tigers quickly and rather easily snuffed out any notion of an upset, jumping out to leads of 8-0 and 13-4, earning a 15-point edge by halftime and scoring at will down the stretch any time UCF seemed to gain momentum.
Memphis, now 18-3 and 8-0 in C-USA, also sent a message to the rest of the league: When the Tigers come to play, nobody in this conference can touch them.
"Coming in here, with that crowd and people going crazy, it was a great effort for us, and it shows me we've got a chance," coach John Calipari said. "We've got a ways to go, but we've got a chance."
The totality of Memphis' performance was a shock to UCF (15-6, 4-3), which came into this game as an emerging No. 2 in the league with a roster of experienced seniors and juniors who could have left their mark on the program with a win Wednesday.
Instead, Memphis left a mark on them, ripping through their defense by making 33-of-57 field goals attempts, pressuring the Golden Knights into 22 turnovers and dunking on them repeatedly.
But perhaps the biggest indignity of all occurred with 7:51 remaining, when, after two straight monster putback dunks by Joey Dorsey and a driving dunk by Robert Dozier, the record crowd of 4,805 began to hit the exits with Memphis in front 68-46.
"They came in focused," UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. "Obviously (Calipari) did a great job of getting them prepared, and they knew it was going to be a good atmosphere, and they responded to that atmosphere and came out and hit us in the nose pretty hard. We didn't have the response we needed to have when you get hit in the face."
The most hitting was done by Dorsey and sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. Dorsey had a career-high 22 points on layups and highlight-reel dunks (10-of-13 from the field), while Douglas-Roberts looked fully healed after playing on a sore right ankle Saturday. Showing far more lift and explosiveness than he did in a 67-64 victory over Southern Miss, Douglas-Roberts repeatedly sliced through UCF's zone defense, scoring 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
"We executed," said Douglas-Roberts, who had 15 points by halftime and helped the Tigers take control early, making a transition runner for an 18-7 lead. Though UCF, which turned the ball over on its first three possessions, got back in the game to trail 29-24, an NBA-range 3-pointer by Jeremy Hunt sparked an 11-2 run in the final 3:45 of the first half.
A tough 15-foot jumper by Lavell Payne over Dorsey got UCF within 48-36 with 15:36 to go, but Douglas-Roberts got a putback off Antonio Anderson's missed jumper to quiet the crowd, and the Golden Knights never threatened again.
Meanwhile, the Tigers' pressure defense clearly disrupted UCF, whose 50 percent shooting performance was not at all indicative of how well Memphis guarded. Though the Tigers' intensity has not been there every night during C-USA play, it didn't waver for a minute Wednesday as they collected 15 steals and 26 points off turnovers.
"You could feel it," Calipari said. "(The players) knew the importance of the game. We're looking at it like we're playing for first place, on the road in a hostile environment, and all we tried to do was make it hard on them. If they're going to make shots, just make them hard shots."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365