Memphis states its case impressively
Sunday, December 23rd 2007, 4:00 AM
MEMPHIS - It's easy to see why this city that gave us Elvis and the blues was so fired up all week for Memphis' first big home game of the season against Georgetown. This was the No.2 Tigers against the No.5 Hoyas, a nationally televised showdown between two college basketball heavyweights who could easily meet again in the Final Four.
Memphis coach John Calipari, whose team has dominated Conference USA for the past two years and advanced to a pair of NCAA Regional Finals, has always loved the idea of challenging his team with non-conference games. The Tigers have already played at the Garden three times, beating Oklahoma and UConn to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, then edging USC in overtime in the Jimmy V Classic.
But this was a chance for Memphis to make its boldest statement to date. The Tigers took full advantage of the opportunity, tearing up the best team in the Big East, 85-71.
This was the Memphis team we heard about in the offseason, but haven't always seen. The Tigers put on the most dominating performance so far by a national title contender. Memphis brought the type of mental toughness and collective defensive energy that could make the Tigers a threat to win the national championship if they can play the same way in March.
"I wonder if we could be No.1 next week?" Calipari asked.
Top-ranked goliath North Carolina should still get the benefit from the voters who lean toward traditional powers. But the second-ranked Tigers can make a solid case for themselves, no matter what the skeptics say.
"This was real important," Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said after scoring 24 points to lead the way on Saturday. "Like I said, we were the underdogs. I don't know how. But we were the underdogs at home and we were higher ranked. We take all of that to heart. We use that as motivation. We're going to see now what the media says about us."
Douglas-Roberts, the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year, had disappeared in the previous three games against USC, Middle Tennessee State and Cincinnati, but his outburst Saturday devastated the Hoyas, who came into the game giving up an average of just 52 points and leading the country in defensive field-goal percentage.
"I knew I had to come back this game," Douglas-Roberts said. "The previous few games, I was kinda lackadaisical, in a daze. I wasn't me. I don't have an answer for it. This game, I felt good."
Memphis played like it was in a mood to celebrate.
Robert Dozier scored 19 points for the Tigers and freshman point guard Derrick Rose, the 6-5 prodigy who is arguably the best player Calipari has ever recruited, contributed 18 points and six assists. Memphis, which outscored Georgetown, 42-31, in the second half, also got a stand-up performance from senior center Joey Dorsey, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds and came to life in the second half when the Tigers asserted their will over the Hoyas by converting second-shot opportunities and suffocating Georgetown (8-1) with defensive pressure. That forced the Hoyas to initiate their Princeton-style halfcourt sets from 25 feet out.
"They can hold the ball out all they want," Douglas-Roberts said. "We're going to defend all the time. That's what all that yelling Coach Cal does is all about. You better defend, or he's gonna take you out of the game."
The Tigers cruised to a 79-62 lead late in the game with a bruising style of play that favored Dorsey. The 6-9, 260-pound senior made a name for himself last March when he publicly dissed Ohio State's Greg Oden just before the Tigers' Regional Final against the Buckeyes in San Antonio, then got embarrassed. This time, he was matched up against Georgetown's All-American center Roy Hibbert and dominated him in the second half. Hibbert, the best center in the Big East, finished with a too-quiet six points - four of them in the final 3:20 - and six rebounds in 27 foul-plagued minutes.
"This was a proving game for me," Dorsey said. "I wanted to prove I could play with the best big men in the country."
Said Hibbert: "I need to take it on myself to be more assertive. I don't do that. I need to make sure in the next couple of games, I need to dominate."