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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jeremy Hunt Poised for Breakout Game (and other Misc notes from San Antonio)

Hunt poised for breakout game

By Jim Masilak and Scott Cacciola
March 22, 2007

SAN ANTONIO -- Jeremy Hunt scored a total of 25 points in the University of Memphis' first two NCAA Tournament games, including 16 Sunday against Nevada. But the Tigers' senior guard remains mired in a perimeter shooting funk that started late in the regular season and has continued through the postseason.

Hunt is 6 for 36 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range in the last six games, dating to the Tigers' regular-season finale at SMU, where he went 1 for 9. He went 2 for 15 during the Conference USA tournament, missing all six of his attempts in the semifinals against Tulane, and is 3 for 12 so far in the NCAA tournament.

Hunt, who has blamed poor mechanics for his recent lack of form, shot 41.9 percent from beyond the arc through the Tigers' first 29 games.

As the No. 2-seeded Tigers prepared for tonight's South Regional semifinal against third-seeded Texas A&M at the Alamodome, coach John Calipari expressed hope that Hunt would find his range against the Aggies.

"Jeremy has not had a breakout (game) yet. Jeremy has just played OK to this point in the tournament," Calipari said. "As a matter of fact, it's below OK how he's played, and I would expect him to have a breakout."

What would constitute a breakout?

Something along the lines of his 25-point first-half performance Feb. 8 at UAB would suffice, his coach said.

"He has been an unbelievable leader for this team," Calipari added. "Now, let's just hope he does a UAB and goes nuts."

Catching up with Shawne

A few Memphis players spent part of Tuesday night catching up with Indiana Pacers forward Shawne Williams. The former Tigers and Hamilton High star was in San Antonio for Wednesday night's game against the Spurs at the AT&T Center.

"He said we need to go out and win," junior point guard Andre Allen said.

Williams, who helped Memphis to last year's Elite Eight, entered Wednesday night's game averaging 2.6 points and about nine minutes per game in 31 games.

Dome daze

Few players on either team have experience playing in an arena the size of the Alamodome.

Even with capacity restricted for today's South Regional games to about 30,050 -- the building can accommodate 65,000 for football -- the larger-than-normal dimensions could take some getting used to.

"It's a little different, but you can adjust quick enough," said Texas A&M sophomore Josh Carter, a 50.3-percent 3-point shooter this season. "You just have to focus on the rim, and you'll be all right."

The consensus among players from both sides was that the arena's vastness, even when partitioned by a big, blue curtain -- wouldn't be a factor.

"It's a basket up there," Aggies junior forward Joseph Jones said. "You just shoot at the goal like you would any goal."

Hunt shared that sentiment.

"If you're a shooter, you should be able to shoot in any environment," he said before the Tigers' first practice at the Alamodome on Wednesday. "I haven't seen what the background looks like yet, but I'm not worried about it."

Where's Willie?

Freshman point guard Willie Kemp could find himself on a short leash today if he doesn't get off to a good start against the Aggies.

While Calipari said the former Bolivar High star has had a "wonderful" year, he also said that, "If I see him rattled at all, we'll take him out."

Kemp has started all 35 games for the Tigers this season, but he has been limited to a total of 20 minutes and gone scoreless during the Tigers' first two NCAA games. The nine minutes he played against North Texas were a season low.

"What happened with Texas (in the second round against Southern Cal) was, when their point guard (D.J. Augustin) struggled, they lost. When our point guard struggles, I put in Andre. If I have to play him 36 minutes, I do," Calipari said. "So, 'Willie, just go play, make shots, shoot the ball. If you don't play well, it's not that big a deal. I'll play the other guy. You're not going to be put in the position to lose the game for us.'"

As for Allen, Calipari said, "His swagger is tremendous. His feel for the game, his calmness when the bullets are flying over his head, is incredible."

Homecourt advantage

About 3,000 fans turned out to watch Texas A&M's open practice at the Alamodome on Wednesday morning, strengthening the suspicion that the Aggies will enjoy a big homecourt advantage in tonight's game.

They certainly hope that's the case.

"I thought it was great," Texas A&M guard Acie Law IV said of the turnout. "I can just feel what it's going to be like now. It gets me excited thinking about how it's gonna be here (today). There's gonna be a great atmosphere."

Said Carter, "It was cool to be out there and see all that. ... It's great to be at home. Hopefully they'll help us (today)."

A good sign

Memphis junior forward Joey Dorsey said he knew he was going to have a good game against Nevada after hitting his one and only free-throw attempt during warmups.

Calipari, however, said he knew as early as 7 a.m. -- some nine hours before game time -- that Dorsey (eight points, nine rebounds) was eager to play.

"I'm walking down, it's 7 in the morning, and I saw him walking out of the hotel at 6:45," Calipari said. "I looked at him. 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I just went for a walk.' I knew he'd be ready."

Oden on the Admiral

Wherever he roams, Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden draws comparisons to the all-time greats. On Wednesday, he was asked about David Robinson, who dominated the paint for the San Antonio Spurs.

Oden said he has tried to model his game -- and his approach to his responsibilities as a high-profile player -- after Robinson's.

"That's how I want to conduct myself off the court and on the court," Oden said, "just being a good teammate and being a guy who wants to win."

Ice Man redux

Tony Jones, Tennessee's associate head coach, wore knee-high socks during the Vols' practice session.

"This is George Gervin," Jones explained, referring to the former San Antonio Spurs standout. "I'm here in San Antonio at his house, paying tribute to him."

Informed that Gervin owned a residence on the Riverwalk, Jones had trouble containing his excitement.

"The hay is in the barn!" Jones said. "This stuff is ready to go!"

Good role models

Tennessee is trying to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's history, and coach Bruce Pearl made some comparisons to the famed Kentucky teams of the late 1980s -- a group of unheralded players that overcame NCAA sanctions to restore luster to the program. He mentioned players such as John Pelphrey and Richie Farmer.

"The fact that I can still remember those guys and what they did, I hope that someday ... I want people to remember Dane Bradshaw," Pearl said. "I want them to remember a time when that 6-3 starting power forward in the SEC -- the smallest power forward in America -- was the personality, the face and the glue of that Tennessee resurrection."

Southwest living

Ohio State coach Thad Matta said his team was enjoying San Antonio.

"I've never been to San Antonio, so (Tuesday night) was awesome, walking down the River Walk, or whatever it was. I actually gave our guys an hour and 23 minutes, which I've never given them, to go out and enjoy the city."

Matta said he gave them 1 hour 23 minutes because they had a film session scheduled for 10 p.m., and it was 8:27 p.m. when he told them they could leave the restaurant and do whatever they wanted to do.

"A couple of guys went to the Alamo and took a picture," Matta said. "I'm not exactly sure what they did, but they were all on time for the film session."

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