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Monday, December 24, 2007

Geoff Calkins - On a day to remember at the Forum, Tigers and Tiger fans can take a bow


On a day to remember at the Forum, Tigers and Tiger fans can take a bow
By Geoff Calkins
Sunday, December 23, 2007

So that's what it looks like when the Memphis Tigers put it all together. So that's what it looks like when Chris Douglas-Roberts is scoring and Joey Dorsey is pounding and Robert Dozier is hitting that little jumper inside the zone and Derrick Rose is firing on all turbojets.

"Pretty scary," said Douglas-Roberts, beaming.

Or just plain pretty. As in beautiful. As in No. 2 Memphis over No. 5 Georgetown, 85-71, in front of a raucous and delighted crowd of 18,864.

"How about the environment?" said Calipari and, absolutely, how about it?

The place was packed. With people and emotion and scouts and national media.

Even Joe Theismann couldn't find a seat. Theismann wandered down to the FedEx section just before tipoff and, um, sorry Joe, can't help you.

The one empty seat was reserved for Keith Lee.

"He's bigger than Joe," said FedEx's Dan Mullally.

Also, Theismann didn't put up 28 and 15 against Georgetown in the 1983 NCAA Tournament.

Theismann wandered off to the FedEx suite. Not that many noticed. Everyone was standing, and everyone was screaming and some said it felt just like the Coliseum used to feel, only with higher concession prices.

And then Georgetown went up by eight. Well, dang it.

Every Georgetown basket was easy as a sugar plum. Every Memphis basket was an effort.

Keith Lee, care to step in and help the cause?

Oh, wait. Never mind.

Because at that moment, the Tigers showed why they have a chance to win it all this year. Down by eight points, struggling to get good shots, the Tigers hung with and ultimately overwhelmed Georgetown by taking turns, almost, by sharing the responsibility for achieving greatness.

"We got down eight and Rose just said, 'I'm making plays.'" Calipari said. "Then all of a sudden CDR starts making plays."

The next thing you know, Dozier is getting open inside the zone for easy jumpers and Pierre Niles -- Pierre Niles! -- is throwing backdoor bounce passes.

This last bit happened after Dorsey went out with two fouls. In came the hefty one for four glorious minutes.

OK, Niles did tip in a basket for Georgetown. But he was good! He helped Memphis survive 12 minutes without Dorsey. And that backdoor bounce pass to Douglas-Roberts with 1:56 left in the half -- take that, Georgetown -- helped Memphis to a 3-point lead at intermission.

At which point, well, let's listen to Dorsey's explanation.

"We just got a big spark from -- me," he said.

Someone had to say it.

Dorsey had seven rebounds in the first 4:01 of the second half. Seven rebounds in four minutes. Georgetown's Roy Hibbert finished with six rebounds total.

A close game became comfortable. A comfortable game became a beat-down.

Memphis by 10. Memphis by 13. Memphis by 15.

"I said telling Roy to be more vocal, tell them to throw him the ball," Dorsey said.

You were helping Hibbert?

"He's my friend. They were down by 18," said Dorsey.

Actually, it never made it past 17. But that's how persuasive this was, how utterly emphatic.

Calipari let his five starters play pretty much the whole second half. He wasn't tinkering with complete domination.

"I wasn't coming out," said Dorsey.

Would you want to be the one to ask him?

By the end, it was less a basketball game than a celebration, of the day, of the city, of the team and of the moment.

The Tigers are now a perfect 10-0. They've beaten Oklahoma and UConn and Southern Cal and Georgetown.

After the game, one of the ESPN types said he expected Memphis to go undefeated. It's a fun idea to think about but, on this day, it seemed almost beside the point.

The game was enough. The game was everything it promised.

It was two great teams, and it was a densely packed gym, and it was close for a while, and it was thrilling, and then the home team won and the home fans danced and the whole place brimmed with happy bedlam.

Up in the stands, Benson Bland blinked and burped at the commotion.

Benson is six months old. It was his very first Tigers game.

His mother, Jennifer Bland, was asked if she had warned the little guy that every game won't be like this.

Jennifer smiled at the question. Some people just have no faith.

"Sure they will be," she said.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail calkins@commercial appeal.com. You can hear his radio show, "The Geoff & Gary Show," starting on Jan. 2, from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 730.

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