MTSU ready for Memphis tonight
By ADAM SPARKS
NASHVILLE — No. 2 Memphis wants to win the crowd. MTSU wants to win the first four minutes.
The in-state foes will square off today at 6 p.m. in the first game of the Sun Belt Classic doubleheader at the Sommet Center. Western Kentucky will play No. 12 Tennessee at 8:15 p.m.
Although ticket sales are split between the four schools in the doubleheader, Memphis coach John Calipari expects a road game-type atmosphere, and his team's ability to overcome that climate will weigh heavily in tonight's outcome.
"These are two basketball teams playing in (MTSU's) backyard, and that's going to make it hard for us," Calipari said. "I told (MTSU coach Kermit Davis), 'I can't believe I agreed to do this.'
"Any time you take your program on the road, it becomes a cause game for the other team. They can rally around one another, rally around the cause of playing us. That makes it a dangerous game. This is the most dangerous game we'll play this year."
Davis agrees, but from the opposite end. He sees Memphis as the largest hurdle on his team's schedule.
MTSU (3-5) will play one of the nation's most talented teams, and its recent history against high-ranked opponents and specifically the up-tempo Memphis (7-0) squad hasn't ended well.
MTSU has lost by a combined 73 points in its last two meetings with Memphis in the past two seasons, and the Blue Raiders fell hard, 109-40, to Tennessee on Nov. 20.
Davis said the key to keeping pace with Memphis is winning small segments of the game, including the four-minute session before the first media timeout.
"That's what I told our team," Davis said. "I know it's cliché, but we're not trying to beat Memphis for a 30-game schedule. We're just trying to beat them in short games like getting to the first media timeout, the 10-minute mark and then halftime.
"The longer you're in it, the more confidence your team gets."
Davis said the key to competing with Memphis is the post play of Desmond Yates and Theryn Hudson.
Hudson, a 6-foot-10 center and former La Vergne High standout, is coming off a career-best performance of 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks against Belmont Wednesday. Yates had 20 points, but only two rebounds in the same game.
"We have got to get him to rebound," Davis said. "That's the big thing. I've never been on a guy so much about trying to be a physical rebounder. I told him if he rebounds, that 20 points will become 30 just from scoring it more and getting to the foul line.
"And Theryn needs to get 10 to 12 rebounds and stay out of foul trouble for us to have a chance."
MTSU junior point guard Kevin Kanaskie is still slowed by a hip injury, but he is expected to play.
The Blue Raiders have allowed 31 3-pointers in the last two games, and their opponents have shot a scorching 45.2 percent from behind the arc. But Calipari said MTSU is a better team than those statistics show.
"I watched our game with Middle last year, and we made a bunch of 3s," Calipari said. "I watched (MTSU's Dec. 1) game with Houston, and they made a ton of 3s. Neither one of us beat Middle. We just happened to make a bunch of jumpers on contested shots.
"So I know it's going to be a hard game, and I know they're going to be ready to go. It's going to be a challenge for us."
— Adam Sparks, 615-278-5167
MTSU Blue Raiders vs. No. 2 Memphis Tigers
When: Today, 6 p.m.
Where: Sommet Center (Nashville)
TV: ESPN2 (channel 29)
Radio: 1450-AM, 106.7-FM
Series: Memphis leads 23-15
Last Meeting: Memphis 86, MTSU 46 (12/23/07)
Probable Starters Ht. Cl. Pts. Reb.
G Kevin Kanaskie 6-2 Jr. 11.4 4.4
G Nigel Johnson 6-2 Jr. 7.3 2.6
G Demetrius Green 6-4 Jr. 10.6 4.8
F Desmond Yates 6-7 So. 12.3 4.0
C Theryn Hudson 6-10 Jr. 10.0 5.8
G Derrick Rose 6-3 Fr. 15.9 5.7
G Antonio Anderson 6-6 Jr. 6.7 3.1
G C. Douglas-Roberts 6-7 Jr. 20.1 6.1
F Joey Dorsey 6-9 Sr. 7.0 9.2
F Robert Dozier 6-9 Jr. 8.0 7.6