Memphis wants to silence critics
By WOODY BAIRD
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A 24-game winning streak hasn't convinced everyone that Memphis is a legitimate national championship contender.
After all, the second-seeded Tigers didn't get much of challenge from their Conference USA rivals, none of which made the NCAA tournament. Counting North Texas and Nevada, the two teams Memphis beat to get to the South Regional semifinals, the Tigers have defeated five teams that made the NCAA's field of 65.
It's safe to say that Thursday's game in San Antonio against Texas A&M will be the Tigers' toughest test in months.
And Memphis could be without leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts, who is nursing a sprained left ankle. Coach John Calipari said he wasn't positive Douglas-Roberts would play.
"But I think he will," Calipari said after his weekly radio show Monday before a packed house of Tiger fans at a Memphis restaurant.
Decked out in Tiger blue T-shirts and caps, the fans treated Calipari to a standing ovation as he arrived for the show held in a strip of taverns and restaurants just off the university campus.
Douglas-Roberts missed the last eight minutes of Sunday's game, but the Tigers dominated down the stretch without him, shutting out Nevada for more than six minutes.
"Let's hope that Chris is healthy. If he's not, we'll figure it out and we'll play without him," Calipari said. "Let's go in with one thing in mind. We're going after people."
Memphis (32-3) is powered by its pressure defense and transition offense. Depth is also a strength. The Tigers have nine players who average at least 10 minutes per game and seven who are over 20. Douglas-Roberts averages 15.4 points per game, but Jeremy Hunt (13.6), Robert Dozier (9.8), Joey Dorsey (8.7) and Antonio Anderson (8.0) can all contribute offensively.
The Tigers ran roughshod over C-USA teams such as East Carolina, Marshall and Rice, on their way to regular season and conference tournament championships.
"They did what they were supposed to do, as far as playing against mediocre talent," said Memphis fan David Harp, one of the faithful out to salute Calipari. "They won big."
This is the second season since Conference USA bid farewell to Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette, all of which were scooped up by the Big East.
But Calipari said the league is getting better.
"Our league is stronger. Maybe we're just better. Anybody think of that?" he said. "Maybe we're better than we were a year ago. I don't know."
The Tigers' other big wins were against Kentucky and Gonzaga, neither of which survived the first weekend of the tournament.
Meanwhile, the Aggies (27-6) went 13-3 in the much tougher Big 12 conference, with signature wins over Kansas and Texas. They're the No. 3 seed, but the odds makers have made them a three-point favorite.
Calipari said such talk doesn't interest him, either.
"Any game we lose from here on out will be because of our league. That's what everybody will say, so it doesn't matter," Calipari said.
A year ago, Memphis had a No. 1 seed but lost to UCLA 50-45 in the regional finals. The Tigers haven't been to the Final Four since 1985, back when the school was still known as Memphis State.
But Memphis fans are ready for a return, hoping the Tigers can stretch their winning streak out four more games.
"We're in the Sweet 16. That ought to tell you something. We're ready," fan Carolyn Bridges said.