Memphis 65, Texas A&M 64
By Stephen Hawkins, ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 23, 2007
SAN ANTONIO – Captain Clutch couldn't come through when Texas A&M needed him the most.
Thanks to Acie Law's bad night with a blown breakaway layup in the final minute and their own unlikely star, the Memphis Tigers are in another NCAA regional final. And this one will be without a partisan crowd after a 65-64 victory over the Aggies.
“I thought I made it. I left it a little short,” Law said of the miss with 47 seconds left after he took a long inbound pass. “Little plays like that just cost you.”
That was the last good shot for the Aggies, whose season was ended by a player who had missed two open layups and three straight free throws until it counted most Thursday night.
Antonio Anderson made two free throws with 3.1 seconds left, going to the line after being fouled at the end of a wild sequence in which the Tigers (33-3) missed three quick shots before he grabbed the final rebound and was fouled.
“We were small out there, but we were quick,” said Anderson, who finished with only five points. “I ran to the basket and the ball just fell in my hands. Nobody boxed me out, and I put it up and got fouled.”
Anderson's only other offensive rebound in the game set up that final sequence.
After the crucial miss by Law, who earned his nickname with a series of last-game heroics this season, Jeremy Hunt missed a 3-pointer. But Anderson came down with the ball and Memphis called timeout.
Memphis, which has won 25 games in a row, plays top-seeded Ohio State in the South Regional final Saturday. The Buckeyes beat Tennessee 85-84 on Thursday night for their 20th straight victory, the second-longest winning streak in the country.
For Texas A&M (27-7), three seasons with coach Billy Gillispie removed from an 0-16 Big 12 record when Law was a freshman, it was the end of the winningest season in school history.
And there were immediately questions about the future for Gillispie, already being mentioned as a possible replacement at Kentucky after Tubby Smith left the Wildcats on Thursday to become Minnesota's coach.
“I don't worry about that,” Gillispie said before a long pause. “I'm honest with my players.”
When asked if he talked to them about the situation, he responded, “Would you? Goodness gracious.”
By beating Texas A&M, the Tigers have already eliminated the team whose fans had the most tickets for the South Regional. The stands in the Alamodome were filled mostly with maroon-clad fans providing a football-like atmosphere and waiting to celebrate another big victory.
Instead, that small contingency of fans in blue behind the Memphis bench – including former Tigers star Penny Hardaway – were cheering at the end, and waiting for another game.
“This is what we wanted, to come to Texas in front of 30,000 and prove ourselves,” coach John Calipari said.
In a similar situation in a regional final last season, when the Tigers also had the better seed, they lost 50-45 to UCLA in Oakland before a crowd full of Bruins fans. Memphis hasn't been to the Final Four since 1985.
Instead of Law, Dominique Kirk took the last shot for the Aggies. His desperation heave from just inside half-court was woefully short.
“I was disappointed in the way that I performed. It's just a tough loss out there,” said Law, who had 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting. “But I really believe that we came a long way. We had a great season.”
Hunt, the Tigers' sixth man, had 19 points. Chris Douglas-Roberts, wearing a brace to support his sprained left ankle sustained last weekend, scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
While the Douglas-Roberts' status had been in question all week, Memphis' leading scorer never doubted he'd be on the court.
“Honestly, it really didn't matter how I was going to feel coming into this game, because I was playing,” Douglas-Roberts said. “I worked around the clock to get it healthy as it is. ... It's felling real good right now.”
Antanas Kavaliauskas had 17 points and eight rebounds for the Aggies, who played in their first regional semifinal since 1980. Joseph Jones scored 14 points.
The Aggies blew a 42-37 lead by hitting only three of their first 13 shots after halftime.
Willie Kemp, scoreless in the first two games of the NCAA tournament, and Hunt hit consecutive 3-pointers to start a 10-0 run. Memphis led 53-48 by the time Douglas-Roberts hit two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket.
“We all play like we have a chip on our shoulder, and we've been playing like that since early in the year,” Douglas-Roberts said. “Now we're winning in the NCAA tournament and we're playing all the elite people and we're still winning.”