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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Geoff Calkins - Determined Tigers rise above the stink

Determined Tigers rise above the stink
By Geoff Calkins
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NEW YORK -- You know, in a certain way, this worked for the night.

It was the Jimmy V Classic, after all. What was it that Jimmy V said?

Don't give up when your offense is in the tank.

Don't give up when your big guy is on the bench with fouls.

Don't give up when you can't make a free throw.

Don't give up when your stars can't bleeping score.

Don't give up when you miss a foul shot that could have won the game.

Don't give up when it goes into overtime.

All that happened to Memphis Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Tigers didn't -- altogether now -- give up.

So, no, it wasn't the high-flying, guns-blazing showdown of the stars that everyone seemed to want. But the Tigers still defeated USC, 62-58.

You got to give it up to them for that, right?

But, man, it was ugly. As college basketball games go, it was a darn good advertisement for the NBA.

"I don't have a whole lot of words to say what I just watched," said Memphis coach John Calipari.

Hideous would work just fine.

All the good and great were gathered in New York to watch USC freshman O.J. Mayo take on Memphis freshman Derrick Rose. What they got was two kids -- and two teams -- still trying to figure out how to play the game.

Of course, Dick Vitale chalked it up to great defense. Because that's what Dick Vitale does.

So the USC defense held Memphis to 7-of-18 shooting -- from the free-throw line.

At one point, Rose broke up the court and fired a pass ahead to ...

Jerry Buss?

Yes, indeed, Jerry Buss, owner of the Lakers, who was, at that very moment sharing cotton candy with a charming young lady sitting next to him.

The pass wasn't actually intended for Buss. It was intended for Chris Douglas-Roberts. But Douglas-Roberts wasn't looking, and the pass skipped out of bounds, and this is how the night went.

Antonio Anderson missed three shots and two free throws in the first two minutes. Douglas-Roberts (2) and Rose (0) combined for two points in the first half. The Tigers appeared dysfunctional and disinterested, both emotionally and tactically unprepared for the game.

It was astonishing, given the schedules. In the two weeks before Tuesday, USC had played San Diego, Miami of Ohio, Southern Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Memphis had played Austin Peay. And had cancelled Thanksgiving. And had brought in a shrink to talk to the team. And that's about it.

But then USC coach Tim Floyd ordered up a triangle-and-two and the Tigers completely fell apart.

"I was stunned," Calipari said. "I got thoroughly outcoached in this game."

Because you didn't prepare for the triangle-and-two?

"We prepared for the triangle-and-two," he said. "Whatever that preparation was, we better not try that again."

Calipari was able to laugh about it Tuesday, but it wasn't all that funny, you could tell.

USC was so pressed for time, Floyd taught his team the new defense in the lobby of the team hotel Monday night. Imagine if USC had, like, an actual 24 hours to prepare. Or 48 hours. Or a couple weeks.

"We were scared at halftime," Calipari said. "I told them, 'Why are we afraid, what is going on?'

Thus inspired, the Tigers came flying out after halftime and offered up, OK, more of the same. Clang, clang, turnover, turnover. But you remember what Valvano said, right?

That's the good news from this evening of basketball. As frustrated and as ticked off and as junky as the Tigers felt Tuesday, they kept hacking away at it.

Then Rose got a steal. And Rose got another steal. And Douglas-Roberts went to the line to put it away.

He missed, of course. What part of hideous don't you understand?

But in overtime, there was Douglas-Roberts, missing a shot, grabbing the rebound, missing the next shot, grabbing the rebound and making the next shot for the four-point lead.

It was second effort, see? And third effort. And that's what won the game.

"We had one desire," Calipari said, "to win the game."

Jimmy V would have been proud.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

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