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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Standout freshman Rose lives up to billing as Tigers handle UT-Martin

Standout freshman Rose lives up to billing as Tigers handle UT-Martin
By Dan Wolken
Monday, November 5, 2007

Derrick Rose's University of Memphis teammates warned him Sunday that he would not be able to sleep in anticipation of his college basketball debut, that he would battle his nerves straight on 'til morning. But after the Tigers' ate dinner and returned to their hotel, the point guard prodigy hit the pillow, quickly and easily finding his night's repose.

He woke up just after 8 a.m., ready as ever to do the two things he does best: Rise, and shine.

Rose's unveiling Monday night at FedExForum soared -- literally -- over everything else about No. 3-ranked Memphis' 102-71 victory against Tennessee-Martin.

Though the Tigers were strong on many fronts, including six players scoring in double-figures, nothing was more stunning than Rose's 25-minute appearance which included 17 points, five assists, six rebounds, two blocked shots and countless ooohs and ahhhs from an announced crowd of 16,555.

Indeed, few things could have overshadowed junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who tied a career high with 28 points to go with eight rebounds and four steals. But Rose did, penning on a handful of signature moments including a high-flying tip-dunk with 3:17 left in the first half that showcased his legendary athleticism.

It was so stunning, UT-Martin, which competed with the Tigers early on, couldn't muster another run the rest of the night.

"He did great, but that's D-Rose," Douglas-Roberts said. "It's his first game, but I expected that. He did some incredible things that a lot of you haven't seen in a point guard, not just passing, not just the speed, but he gets the tip-dunk and his head is over the rim."

By beating the Skyhawks, the Tigers will return to FedExForum tonight for an 8 p.m. tipoff against Richmond, with the winner advancing to New York for the semifinals of the 2k College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

And despite Rose's performance, the Tigers will hope to come back with a better effort in several areas. Early in the game, their disjointed full-court press served only to allow the Skyhawks open looks at the basket that they made for awhile. Lester Hudson, a product of Central High School and Southwest Tennessee Community College, had 16 points in the first eight minutes and 35 total, staking UT-Martin to a shocking 28-21 lead nearly 10 minutes in.

Meanwhile, Memphis looked over-anxious for much of the first half, forcing quick shots, missing rebounds and converting just 2-of-14 from 3-point range early on.

"It was typical of what we're going to face this year which is teams are going to come out playing for their lives and teams are going to take some shots and some they're going to make," coach John Calipari said. "They came out and made four unbelievable shots in a row and all the sudden they're up. That's going to happen to us this year, but again, I thought we got pushed around a little bit. And if we're to be something special, that just can't happen. We put in some guys when I made the first substation, and that thing went the wrong way. That can't happen."

After Calipari got his starting lineup back on the court, Douglas-Roberts helped the Tigers settle in, erasing the early seven-point deficit almost singlehandedly by tipping in his own miss, intercepting a pass in the backcourt for a dunk, then drawing a foul and converting two free throws all in fewer than two minutes.

Then Rose, on the strength of 10 first half points, helped the Tigers spurt away toward a 49-36 halftime lead. Memphis scored the first seven points of the second half to push the advantage to 20 and eventually wore UT-Martin out.

"We had to get our little jitters out or whatever but towards the second half, we got used to playing with each other and just joined from there," Rose said.

Before Rose played Monday, he had to go to three classes -- English, Math and, of course, Dance. Rose graded his performance against UT-Martin as a C. But in Dance class, "I got an A-plus," he said.

Just like that, the Dance has begun, all the way toward March.

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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