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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Turning Up Defensive Pressure Sparks Tigers Over SMU Mustangs

Turning up defensive pressure sparks Tigers
By Jim Masilak
February 4, 2007

There were 23 seconds left on the shot clock when the whistle was finally blown.
SMU was still marooned in its own backcourt, a full 12 seconds -- or two more than permitted -- after inbounding the ball against the University of Memphis' revamped pressure defense.

"It was 12, wasn't it?" Tigers senior guard Jeremy Hunt said with slight annoyance. "When you work so hard to keep them in the backcourt, you don't want them to get the ball over with one second left. We just wanted to put pressure on them real early and get a big lead. We wanted to come out fighting."

Although Memphis coach John Calipari said the Tigers "didn't need to press," they did so to great effect.

Memphis harried SMU into 12 turnovers -- including a 10-second violation, a five-second violation and five turnovers in the space of three first-half minutes -- during an 88-52 romp Saturday afternoon at FedExForum.

While the 11th-ranked Tigers (19-3, 9-0 in Conference USA) employed their press often during the non-conference portion of their schedule, they haven't used it too often over the past month. Instead, their focus has been on beefing up the halfcourt defense they'll need in March.

"We need to be able to shut teams down come tournament time," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "In order to do that, we've got to (work on the halfcourt) now."

At the same time, though, the Tigers have been working assiduously at expanding their options when defending the full 94 feet.

Sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said that, whereas in December the Tigers employed one basic look on the press, they now have as many as six variations with which to torment opponents.

"We're using a lot of different pressure now. When a team figures out one, we go to another," Douglas-Roberts said. "When they see one press (on film) and then we come out in a different one, and then another one after that, that confuses teams."

As many problems as the Tigers' 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 presses present for opponents, Anderson said the original version was often good enough by itself.

"People couldn't even break that one," he said.

The Tigers began ramping up the pressure Wednesday in an 87-65 thumping of Central Florida in Orlando, forcing the Golden Knights into 22 turnovers.

They continued to force the tempo Saturday against the Mustangs (13-9, 2-6), but Calipari said that was more about giving his team a jolt than any urgent need to disrupt the opponent.

"I backed up the press, and I waited because I'm worried about my team," he said. "I know we didn't need to keeping pressing, but I'm worried about us and our conditioning and intensity. When we backed off, I think we did pretty well in the halfcourt."

Memphis limited SMU to 36.4-percent shooting from the field. That the Mustangs connected on just 3-of-16 3-point attempts could be attributed in large part to the Tigers' tight perimeter defense.

Hunt said the Tigers were determined not to let the 11 a.m. start -- or, more to the point, their 6:45 a.m. wakeup call -- affect their performance.

"We didn't want to come in and be sluggish," he said. "We wanted to come in and be on top of them."

Jim Masilak, 529-2311

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