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Friday, March 02, 2007

Tigers Win 18th In a Row

Tigers win 18th in a row
No. 6 Tigers 78, UTEP 67

By Dan Wolken
March 2, 2007

EL PASO, Texas -- John Calipari and Tony Barbee walked toward each other along the scorer's table at the Don Haskins Center and embraced, one of them relieved and the other lamenting a signature win that slipped away.

Then, Barbee, who played under Calipari at UMass and coached under him at the University of Memphis, leaned in and shared the secret of what had transpired over 40 heart-wrenching minutes of basketball.

"What he ended up saying," Calipari said, "was just go after (Memphis) physically, and that's what they did."
Few teams have thrown the kind of physical pressure at the No. 6-ranked Tigers that UTEP did Thursday, inspired by a crowd of 11,066 that was on its feet for most of the second half. Few teams have so readily attacked Memphis' weaknesses. But in the end, the Tigers' talent and their will carried them to a 78-67 victory that remained in doubt until the final minute.

"This is a hard one because we needed to win the game, and (Barbee) did everything he could to put his team in position to win the game," Calipari said. "They came after us. He knows this team, and he played individual players the way they needed to be played. Remember, he recruited these guys."

For a while, Barbee's game plan had the nation's longest winning streak in jeopardy as Memphis was clinging to a one-point lead deep into the second half. But the Tigers got a 3-pointer from senior Jeremy Hunt with 6:56 left and clutch baskets down the stretch by sophomore Chris Douglas-Roberts to break open a one-point game, giving Memphis a 10-point lead it nursed to the finish.

The Tigers, winners of 18 in a row, now head to Dallas for Saturday's meeting with SMU to close the regular season. A victory would complete Memphis' first unbeaten conference record in school history and match a C-USA record set by Cincinnati in 1999-2000.

But to even get on the precipice of that accomplishment, Memphis (26-3, 15-0 C-USA) had to survive a major scare from UTEP, which nearly produced the perfect upset recipe.

First, the Miners got junior forward Joey Dorsey in foul trouble, finally getting him to crack with 10:42 left when Dorsey got called for a technical foul (his fourth) for something he said as he walked to the Tigers' bench. Dorsey fouled out with 3:41 left, just seconds after letting a rebound out of his grasp that UTEP used to pull within 68-61.

Then, UTEP took away the rest of Memphis' inside game by applying relentless physical pressure to forward Robert Dozier, who had trouble finishing around the rim and went 1-for-8 from the field.

And finally, UTEP put the Tigers at the free-throw line, where they went 11-of-25 and missed three front-ends on bonus situations.

That convergence of circumstances rattled the Tigers for much of the game as they fired up contested 3-pointers and couldn't get any breathing room until an 11-2 run fueled by five straight Chris Douglas-Roberts points to give Memphis a 68-58 lead with 5:16 to go.

But even then, the Tigers couldn't put the game away, as UTEP crawled back within five points. A Douglas-Roberts putback put the Tigers in front 70-63 with 1:55 to go, and another Hunt 3-pointer with 51 seconds left finished off the Miners.

Hunt and Douglas-Roberts have made the key shots in all of the Tigers' close games, including victories over Gonzaga and Southern Miss. Douglas-Roberts had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Hunt scored 19 on 5-of-11.

"Me and Hunt talk about it at the end, and we just try to make the plays that we can make," Douglas-Roberts said. "Hunt knows that at the end, if he's open, let it go. And he can shoot it from deep. And I know I'm going to try to get fouled and try to get a layup, but we talk about that, and we're feeling our roles better."

UTEP shot 47.1 percent from the field and made 6-of-14 from 3-point range. Calipari said two wide-open misses by UTEP in the final minutes were all that stood between the Miners and a monumental upset.

"I don't know what else to say," Barbee said. "It was a good game. The kids played hard. We competed. We shot the ball well, but we didn't take care of the basketball well enough."

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