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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Berth In Final Four Eludes Tigers for 2nd Straight Year

Berth in NCAA Final Four eludes Tigers for second straight year
Ohio State 92, Memphis 76

By Jim Masilak
March 25, 2007

SAN ANTONIO -- University of Memphis sophomore Antonio Anderson sat slumped in a folding chair deep inside the Alamodome, a butterfly bandage concealing 15 stitches above his right eye and down the bridge of his nose.

In the first half of Saturday's NCAA tournament South Regional final game against Ohio State, Anderson was laid low by an accidental elbow from teammate Robert Dozier.

As much as that hurt, Anderson said it was nothing compared to the pain he and the No. 2-seeded Tigers felt following a season-ending 92-76 loss to the top-seeded Buckeyes.

"We lost to a good team," a sullen Anderson said. "It happens. That's all I can say."

Chris Douglas-Roberts, sitting to his classmate's left in a frown-filled Memphis locker room, echoed the sentiment.

"It's tough, man," he said. "It's tough. Tough, tough, tough, tough. Any loss is tough, but in the Elite Eight? Your season's over. You can't imagine, because you're not playing, but it's not easy."

For the second straight season, a record-setting Tiger basketball season has ended one agonizing step short of the Final Four.

Last year, the Tigers won a program-best 33 games before falling to UCLA in the Elite Eight. The UofM won 33 games again this season, including Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles, but the Tigers once more failed to end what is now a 22-year Final Four drought.

"I wish I could be at home next week in Atlanta," Dozier, a native of Lithonia, Ga., said in reference to the site of this year's Final Four. "We've just got to go home, work hard this summer and get ready for next year's run."

Ron Lewis scored 22 points and Mike Conley Jr. added 19 as the Big Ten Conference-champion Buckeyes (34-3) used a 14-4 second-half run to end the Tigers' Final Four dream.

Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden, described by Memphis forward Joey Dorsey as "overrated" in the buildup to Saturday's game, finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.

Dorsey went scoreless.

"When somebody talks about Greg," Conley said, "they're talking about all of us."

In his final outing for the Tigers (33-4), former Craigmont High standout Jeremy Hunt scored a game-high 26 points, going 5 for 11 from 3-point range. But his heroics weren't enough to extend the Tigers' school-record 25-game winning streak.

"It's not a good feeling right now," Hunt said. "We had a great run. We won 25 games straight. Right now, we've just got to man up and say Ohio State was the better team."

Memphis led 60-57 with less than 10 minutes to play, but Douglas-Roberts' controversial intentional foul on Oden resulted in a five-point swing and a surge in momentum for the Buckeyes.

"That was the worst intentional foul I have ever seen in my life," Anderson said. "He just barely grabbed him, but that's how it goes."

Afterward, Tigers coach John Calipari was asked what his response would be should another school come calling about a job opportunity.

Calipari, who flirted with North Carolina State following last year's Elite Eight run and has been mentioned in connection with the opening at Kentucky, provided an emphatic response.

"I have no interest in another job. I'm coaching the University of Memphis and that's where I want to coach," he said. "I don't have any other interest in any other job. ... We've got a great thing going."

-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311

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