Sunday, December 23, 2007
ESPN's Andy Katz - Calipari's extra work helps Memphis' Douglas-Roberts shine
Calipari's extra work helps Memphis' Douglas-Roberts shine
By Andy Katz
Updated: December 22, 2007, 8:57 PM ET
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Look, there was no way Memphis coach John Calipari was going to go into the most-hyped nonconference game in his eight-year tenure with his leading scorer, junior Chris Douglas-Roberts, in some sort of funk.
No way. This game was too important to Calipari and -- as he would say later in the day -- to the potential No. 1 seed possibilities for the Tigers come March.
So, he did what he hadn't done yet in college: He took over the individual workout for Douglas-Roberts this week, not just once, but twice.
"For the first 30 minutes, he whined like he was exhausted," Calipari said. "There were sounds coming out of him that I didn't know if he were a female or a male."
Calipari was in Douglas-Roberts' grille. Rod Strickland, who is the team's director of student-athlete development/manager, held a pad pushing back every time he drove.
"I was doing anything to jar the kid out of what he was in," Calipari said. "I was trying to get his motor going. That's all it was."
Calipari said he had done the same tactic with Keith Van Horn, Lucious Harris and Kerry Kittles when he coached the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s. Let's just say he might not want to wait as long to do it again with another player.
Douglas-Roberts scored a team-high 24 points as he and the rest of the No. 2 Tigers ran away from No. 4 Georgetown 85-71 Saturday afternoon at the FedEx Forum in a matchup between undefeated teams.
Douglas-Roberts said he admittedly was flustered by USC's triangle-and-two gimmick defense the Trojans threw at him in New York earlier in the month. He scored only 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting in the ugly overtime affair. Middle Tennessee State tried the same D in Nashville. But a combination of that and an overall lack of aggression clouded his mind and led to a 2-of-5 shooting night for five points, followed by a less than inspiring 1-for-3, four-point game at Cincinnati.
Why did Calipari resort to taking matters into his own hands?
"I watched," Calipari said. "He couldn't get by anybody. In this offense, if you can't beat your man, they're not going to call a foul. He's not the kind of physical player that can play with people hanging on him.
"He wasn't cutting hard enough, busting hard enough."
"They were hard workouts before practice," said Douglas-Roberts, who made seven of 13 shots and drew fouls to shoot 9-of-12 from the free-throw line. "It got me in the right frame of mind. It was all about pace. My pace the previous two games wasn't where it was supposed to be."
His teammates noticed it, too, and Robert Dozier and Derrick Rose said they shared his frustration the past three games. But CDR's play Saturday was "what he is for us, a great scorer," Dozier said.
But we would be remiss if this were all about CDR's awakening. The Tigers put away the Hoyas in the second half by deciding to increase their intensity on the defensive end. In the first half, they did get burned by the classic backdoor cuts of the Hoyas. But the power of ball pressure and being physical every time Georgetown had possession led to a runaway. Joey Dorsey, who was in foul trouble in the first half, grabbed 11 of his 13 rebounds in the second half, blocked two of his three shots in the second half and provided enough of a presence to fluster the Hoyas' post.
Dorsey's power, the versatility of Dozier and the strength, even for just four minutes, of wide-body Pierre Niles, was enough to send preseason All-American Roy Hibbert to his lowest-point total of the season (six).
"All of our games [so far], there were one or two good players, but on their team, everybody is a scorer and everybody is a threat," said Hibbert, whose Hoyas' previously toughest game was against a depleted Alabama in Birmingham. "We need to get better on offense and defense."
Georgetown coach John Thompson III was even more direct, saying, "We will improve. We will improve."
The question is how often will Memphis' defense be so deflating for an opponent?
Will the Tigers bring the same intensity they did in the second half in every game? Will it be there for 40 minutes against Arizona, Gonzaga, Tennessee the next two months, against Houston and UAB on the road in Conference USA or in a second-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament?
"It's going to be real hard, honestly," Douglas-Roberts said. "We're not going to play like this every game. But we know every big game, this is what we have to bring, just like this."
Douglas-Roberts played the underdog role card, too. He said the Tigers will play "with a chip on our shoulder and are proving it to ourselves, not to the media," that they're worthy of their high ranking.
Not sure where CDR is getting that no one thought the Tigers would win this game. This was at home. As are the upcoming games against Arizona (Dec. 29), Gonzaga (Jan. 26) and Tennessee (Feb. 23), which is quite remarkable in this era of teams not always getting a plethora of marquee nonconference home games.
"This is a big one, a huge game if you win," Calipari said. "If you don't, it's Dec. 22. But they're never taking it away. They can say that's in December, the [NCAA Tournament selection] committee can say whatever it wants -- in December, not in January and February, at home -- don't act like they can't move the numbers around. All we can do is go play ball and put a résumé together, and they decide where we should go and what seed we should be.
"Now, my question is: Are we No. 1 next week?"
The way the polls work, probably not because -- for whatever reason -- media and coaches don't like to jump a team too high, especially if the No. 1 team (North Carolina) hasn't lost. But it really doesn't matter in college basketball. All that is relevant is being a No. 1 seed and, for Memphis, playing the first two rounds in nearby Little Rock, Ark., and, if the Tigers advance, being the top seed in a regional semifinal and final in Houston en route to San Antonio.
Beating Georgetown helps put Memphis on that path.
"We knew a game like this helps our seeding in March," Douglas-Roberts said. "That's why we didn't want to get beat."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.