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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Commercial Appeal "Tigers Go Sweet 16-0"

Tigers go Sweet 16-0
(6) Tigers 64, SMU 61

By Dan Wolken
March 4, 2007

DALLAS -- The University of Memphis' first perfect Conference USA season is complete. But the Tigers' dominance over this league isn't quite what it seemed a few days ago.

No. 6 Memphis came to Texas this past week unbeaten and largely untested this season against this overmatched collection of teams. But for the second straight game, the Tigers had to survive a scare Saturday to overcome 11th-place SMU, 64-61, at Moody Coliseum.

With the victory, Memphis (27-3) extended its nation-leading win streak to 19 games and became just the second team to go undefeated in C-USA, matching Cincinnati's 16-0 record in 1999-2000.
Memphis will begin the postseason Thursday in a 6 p.m. Conference USA Tournament quarterfinal at FedExForum, playing the winner of a first-round game between No. 8 seed Marshall and No. 9 UAB.

And the Tigers will be happy to return home after a rugged trip on which they struggled to put away UTEP on Thursday night, then fought from behind for most of Saturday's game against SMU (14-16, 3-13), a team Memphis beat by 36 points in the first meeting on Feb. 3.

This time, Memphis had to sweat down to the buzzer after a wild sequence in which sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts missed two free throws with 13 seconds left, then got his own rebound in traffic and made the next two.

SMU's Ike Ofoegbu, who scored 20 points, got a look at a tying 3-pointer as time expired but airballed it, saving Memphis from an embarrassing upset that would have put an end to its faint hopes for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"They played us as well as anybody has played us all year, maybe other than Arizona or Tennessee," coach John Calipari said. "What happened to us was what they did to us, not what we did to ourselves. We were good enough to fight it off and still win the game. I told them, I'm happy after wins. I don't care. We'll learn from this, watch the tape and figure out some things."

After a sluggish start that left Memphis trailing by 12 points early and fighting uphill the rest of the way, the Tigers finally broke through with 3:39 left when Chris Douglas-Roberts made a 3-pointer to give Memphis a 59-57 lead.

Down to five scholarship players after two starters fouled out, SMU gave Memphis opportunities to open the lead. But the Tigers struggled to make shots all night, going 21-for-56 from the field and 5-for-23 from the 3-point line.

"We haven't had a game all year like that where nobody could get going," Douglas-Roberts, who scored 19 points, said. "But we still found a way to win. This felt like a tournament game, I'm telling you. The other team's intensity is going to be real high like this."

With 1:02 left, junior forward Joey Dorsey gave Memphis a huge basket, beating the shot clock with a tip-in off Jeremy Hunt's wild 3-point miss to give the Tigers a 61-58 lead. After an SMU miss, Hunt made 1 of 2 free throws with 22.3 seconds left, but a Devon Pearson 3-pointer with 13.9 seconds left brought SMU back within 62-61.

Many of the Tigers' problems could be traced to Dorsey's foul trouble. Dorsey, who made 5-of-5 free throws on his way to 13 points and seven rebounds, was whistled for two fouls in the first 10 minutes of the first half, relegating him to the bench. Then, he picked up his third unnecessarily 34 seconds into the second half on a rebound attempt.

That put Dorsey back on the bench until 11:10 remained, and by that point, SMU's confidence had already reached a fever pitch with a 44-42 lead.

Memphis, trying to get in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, set itself up for trouble right away Saturday by getting out-hustled to rebounds and allowing three early SMU putbacks. And with SMU making three of its first five 3-pointers, Memphis trailed 19-7 after the first 5:35, its largest deficit in any C-USA game this year.

Though the Tigers' defense came to life and held SMU to one field goal in the final 10 minutes of the half -- an Ofoegbu putback to beat the buzzer -- Memphis led just 29-28.

"They got three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes, and that was effort," Calipari said. "They're making plays, they're inspired to play. I'm looking up thinking, we're going to be down 20 here in a minute. I had to sub four guys just to get us back to where we could settle down."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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