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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tulane No Match for Tigers

Tulane no match for Tigers
By Dan Wolken
February 11, 2007

Antonio Anderson was hurting, Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier were fouling, and Chris Douglas-Roberts was misfiring.

With four University of Memphis starters compromised in one way or another Saturday, the No. 8-ranked Tigers turned to their bench Saturday against Tulane.

Ever hear the theory Memphis' second team might be able to win Conference USA? For the first time all season, the Tigers got a chance to prove it. Against one of the league's hottest clubs, Memphis went deep into its reserves at FedExForum and still mauled the Green Wave, 95-51 in front of 17,176 witnesses.

Though this one was never close -- Memphis established a 16-5 lead in the game's first four minutes -- Tulane crawled back within 20-12 and had an opportunity to make the first half interesting with Dozier and Dorsey both on the bench with two fouls and Anderson sitting out with a sprained ankle suffered in Thursday's win at UAB.

But coach John Calipari put his trust in freshman guards Doneal Mack, Tre'Von Willis and Willie Kemp. He even gave quality minutes to rookie Pierre Niles, who has been buried on the depth chart most of this season. And behind that core of youngsters, Memphis simply overwhelmed Tulane for its 13th straight win, improving to 21-3 overall and 11-0 in C-USA.

"A lot of people," Mack said, "showed what they can do."

People like Kemp, who bounced back from a bad 14 minutes at UAB with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, four assists and no turnovers. People like Mack, who had nine points, three assists and three steals. And people like Willis, who has struggled to break into the rotation but swished his first 3-pointer Saturday and finished with a career-high 12 points.

And no matter which combination the Tigers used, they had little trouble shutting down Tulane, which made just 14-of-45 field goals and committed 21 turnovers.

"Whoever we had out there, we were good defensively," Calipari said. "When we had Joey and Robert in there, they didn't score for a while.

"I was happy Tre'Von went in and played well because he's played well in practice and he's earned the right to get on the floor. I was proud of Pierre and how he played."

At times, four freshmen were on the floor at once Saturday, but they still provided plenty of highlight-reel material. Consecutive 3-pointers by Kemp and Mack staked Memphis to an early 13-3 lead, and another by Kemp gave the Tigers a 31-15 advantage roughly 10 minutes into the game.

After Mack fed backup center Kareem Cooper for a layup with just a few seconds left in the first half, Willis stole the inbounds pass, then hit a runner for a 51-29 lead.

"I just really want to go out and play hard, come up with loose balls, and coach told me he'd give me some time so I'm going to do whatever it takes to get time," Willis said.

The second half was more of the same. With the starters back in, Memphis simply kept extending the margin against a helpless Tulane team, which came in riding the momentum of two straight blowout C-USA wins but fell to 11-11 overall and 4-6 in C-USA.

After picking up his early fouls, Dozier came back in to score 13 points with seven rebounds. And though Dorsey finished with just seven points and six rebounds, it was the first time his minutes have been limited by foul trouble since Dec. 20 at Arizona.

Memphis finished 31 of 61 from the field, made 9 of 17 from 3-point range and committed just nine turnovers.

"We had a little foul trouble in the first half, and we played well anyway," Calipari said.

"We played without Antonio and played well anyway. We passed the ball to each other. We had 14 steals, created 21 turnovers. A lot of good stuff."


Streaking Tigers

13: Consecutive victories

15: Consecutive victories over C-USA opponents

27: Consecutive victories at FedExForum

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