Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Geoff Calkins - One difficult time down, Tigers leave with lessons
One difficult time down, Tigers leave with lessons
By Geoff Calkins (Contact)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
NEW YORK -- The Memphis Tigers did not come into this season dreaming of winning the 2k Sports College Hoops Classic.
Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose do not go to sleep at night dreaming of winning an early-season tournament in New York.
They want to win that other tournament, the one that will finish in San Antonio in early April. They want to have the big parade.
But if they do all that, they will draw on what they accomplished this week at Madison Square Garden. They will remember trailing at halftime, having blown a big lead, in front of a boisterous crowd, with the officials giving the other guys every call.
And they will remember what happened next, when they gathered themselves to beat Connecticut, 81-70.
No, the Memphis Tigers did not come into this season dreaming of winning the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. But they will take it, just the same.
"This is why we schedule these games," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "You're playing a team that has always been well-coached, that has terrific players, that will fight you, that has been through wars. They come at you and they make three or four runs and you still beat it down and win."
Calipari said he took no particular joy in defeating UConn coach Jim Calhoun. Well, what was he going to say?
The two shook hands before the game. Five minutes later, the Tigers were up 18-3.
It was ridiculous, really, ridiculous and sublime. Calhoun wouldn't play zone. Calipari's Tigers made him pay and pay and pay. Midway in the first half, two reporters who cover UConn regularly were trying to figure out the last time they saw the Huskies so completely overmatched.
They settled on a game against Kansas in 1997. And then, well, the officials intervened. This is not complaining, either. It's simply a fact. Memphis shot three free throws in the first half. UConn shot one hundred million of them.
Or maybe it was 23. Whichever.
So back came the Huskies, uncontested point by uncontested point.
Memphis got frustrusted. Calipari got mad and said a bad word.
Tweet. Technical foul.
"I wasn't going to sit there and let them manhandle our team," Calipari said.
Shawn Taggart must have had the same idea. He got a technical, too. And now the crowd was really into it, and Memphis started missing shots, and it didn't help that Joey Dorsey was on the bench with two fouls.
With 12.9 seconds left in the half, UConn finally caught up. Jeff Adrien gave the Huskies the lead on -- what else? -- two foul shots.
Half over. UConn 41, Memphis 40. And that was the first moment of many that will test the Tigers this season, especially if the season goes as planned.
Teams just don't go to the Final Four without difficult moments. They learn to meet the moments and move on.
In the locker room, Calipari looked around to gauge the mood of his team.
"The kids at halftime, they knew that we were OK," he said. "They never panicked, they played to win."
It helps, of course, to have players who have been in these spots before. To have Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson and a core of players who have been to two straight Elite Eights. But every year is a new challenge, every team is a new mix.
"I just want to learn about my team," said Calipari. "You can only learn in games like this."
1) Robert Dozier can play tough when it counts.
2) Rose can do it on the big stage.
3) If in doubt, throw it to Douglas-Roberts, the calm and quirky leader of the team.
Calipari wasn't happy with the way Douglas-Roberts played against Oklahoma, going so far as to single him out before the game.
"I told the team that we had some players that did not perform to the level they need to," Calipari said. "I didn't mention names, but I think I mentioned No. 14."
So No. 14 responded with a career-high 33, hitting every big shot down the stretch.
No. 3 (Dorsey) helped, too, clogging things up and grabbing rebounds. No. 23 (Rose) had 24 nervy points. And No. 2 (Dozier) was the revelation, submitting his best work since last year's win over Texas A&M. He had eight points, eight rebounds and a big put-back down the stretch.
All of which combined to give Memphis the win, and the T-shirts, and the big golden basketball that goes to the winner of this tournament. It was a little nutty, watching the celebration. Because it was so clearly beside the point.
But there were the players, lifting the trophy in the air, as "We Are The Champions" boomed from the sound system.
They smiled and laughed and held up their index fingers.
One down, bigger ones to go.
To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org