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Friday, March 23, 2007

From the Bryan-College Station (TX) Eagle "Was This Run the Start of Even More?"

Was this run the start of even more?

By ROBERT CESSNA, The Bryan-College Station (TX) Eagle

SAN ANTONIO - Texas A&M became a big-time basketball program Thursday night, experiencing the kind of heartbreak typically reserved for a North Carolina or Kansas.

A&M's attempt at a magical ride to the Final Four came to an abrupt end in a 65-64 loss to Memphis, the third time the program has failed to advance past the Sweet 16.

The Alamodome was supposed to be an advantage for the Aggies, who were playing closer to home than any of the other Sweet 16 teams in this year's version of the Big Dance.

A&M was lifted by more than 20,000 Aggies cheering, but it was unheralded Memphis, the veteran postseason program, that made the plays down the stretch.

Antonio Anderson, who hit just 1 of his first 4 at the free-throw line, hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds left for the winning points.

He should never have made it to the free-throw line.

Memphis managed to get four offensive rebounds on its last possession, including three in the final 11 seconds after Andre Allen missed a 3-pointer.

"It is my job to get a rebound, and I didn't get it," A&M post Antanas Kavaliauskas said. "It cost us the game."

He wasn't alone. Even All-America point guard Acie Law IV didn't rise above the pressure.

Law, the program's heart and soul, missed a driving layup with 47 seconds left that could have given A&M a three-point lead.

It ended a very pedestrian game for Law - 6-of-17 shooting for 13 points with one assist.

A&M posts Joseph Jones and Kavaliauskas combined for 30 points on 14-of-25 shooting, but its their inside misses they'll painfully remember most.

A&M had Memphis' big men in foul trouble, but the Aggies let the Tigers hang around, and eventually that rope was around A&M's neck.

"We didn't finish plays, and it cost us the game," said Jones, who also missed a layup on a long pass.

A&M hit only 5 of 10 free throws. Memphis, which shot only 61 percent at the charity stripe during the regular season, was 14 of 21.

The active Tigers blocked six shots.

A&M didn't have a block, and forced only eight turnovers, despite the homecourt advantage.

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Memphis guard Jeremy Hunt takes a three point shot over Texas A&M's Marlon Pompey on Thursday night.
The Tigers, who didn't start a senior, had been belittled for playing in Conference USA, often referred to as "Conference Useless" by fans from the bigger leagues.

Memphis, unbeaten in league action, was the only USA Conference team to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers are headed back to the Elite Eight for the second straight year.

"This is what we wanted - to come to Texas in front of 30,000 and prove ourselves," Memphis head coach John Calipari said.

"And what happened ... truly the pressure was on them, not us."

And now there's a different kind of pressure on A&M.

Was this the start of something big?

Or was this a once-in-a-lifetime ride, much like the Sweet 16 trips in 1979 and '80.

"We'll see if we've turned any corners," A&M head coach Billy Gillispie said. "We came here to win. I'm not into moral victories. We made some strides. Time will tell if we're going to be able to develop into a top-notch program. We're on the right track, but we have not reached any kind of destination."

The 20,000 solemn Aggie fans filing out of the Alamodome will remember the good times as they drive home, but in their minds, they're ready to get back to the Sweet 16. The sooner the better.

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