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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Memphis Coach Hopes to Win Hearts of Rivals Against A&M

Memphis coach hopes to win hearts of rivals against A&M
Web Posted: 03/21/2007 11:05 PM CDT

Tim Griffin
San Antonio Express-News

Memphis coach John Calipari said he's willing to wear an orange T-shirt to attract a few extra fans for his team's NCAA South Regional semifinal against Texas A&M.
Some might question whether Tennessee fans would willingly put aside their traditional rivalry with the Tigers for a little moral support. But Calipari is looking for any advantage, considering his team will be battling a rowdy Alamodome crowd tonight that should be packed with mostly Aggies fans.

"I would hope for the first time in their lives I see orange jerseys cheering for us," Calipari said. "And the first time they see the University of Memphis fans cheering for Tennessee, maybe even singing that song ... what's the name of it?"

While Calipari might be stumped about the title of Tennessee's traditional fight song "Rocky Top," he is certain of the challenge his Tigers will be facing against the Aggies.

"The biggest thing I keep saying is that it's time to man up, or we've had a heck of a year," Calipari said. "This one is not for the faint of heart, let's put it that way."

The winner of the A&M-Memphis game will advance to Saturday's regional final against the winner of the other South semifinal between Tennessee and Ohio State.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and Calipari have been involved in a couple of media dustups in the two seasons since Pearl took over as the Volunteers' head coach. Pearl chuckled when he heard of Calipari's open invitation.

"If Calipari would wear an orange T-shirt, I would wear a Memphis jacket, absolutely," Pearl said. "Hey, we're sister schools. We're in the same (Tennessee state school) system."

But Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said he wouldn't expect many cheers from Volunteers fans, even with the prospect of an All-Tennessee regional final looming if both schools win tonight.

"It's a heated rivalry," Douglas-Roberts said. "When we went up there to play them, they were saying stuff to us outside of basketball. They really do not like us."

A&M (27-6) hopes to continue the winningest season in school history in its first Sweet 16 appearance in 27 seasons.

"We'll probably have more fans than anybody else," A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. "It may be able to help you get over a couple of tough spots in the game, but it won't be the ultimate determining factor."

Memphis players are using the quasi-road game as another obstacle to overcome. They stumbled in the West Regional final last season in Sacramento, Calif., against UCLA, but say they are better equipped to playing on the road this time.

They also said they are battling a lack of respect, despite a nation-best 24-game winning streak that was fueled mostly by victories over Conference USA teams.

Memphis also will have to overcome the iffy condition of leading scorer Douglas-Roberts, who is hobbled with a severely sprained ankle.

"I'm not at 100 percent and not at 80," Douglas-Roberts said. "But by (today), I should be alright and ready to play."

Pearl has his own concerns as he prepares for the Buckeyes, who started their current 19-game winning streak with a 68-66 victory over the Volunteers on Jan. 13 in Columbus, Ohio.

Tennessee's pressing defense forced 20 turnovers in that game — a factor Pearl said would be difficult to duplicate.

"It was the first time they'd seen that kind of pressure, and they'll handle it better this time," Pearl said. "We played our cards and showed our hand. So I don't think that first game in Columbus is necessarily going to help us much here."

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