Friday, December 21, 2007
No. 2 Tigers 79, Cincinnati 69
Tigers outlast Bearcats in physical matchup
No. 2 Tigers 79, Cincinnati 69
By Dan Wolken
Thursday, December 20, 2007
CINCINNATI -- The first time Cincinnati threw freshman Derrick Rose to the floor, he came up holding his elbow and grimacing. The second time, he was rubbing the side of his left leg. And right before the game was over, Rose ran into a screen so hard it took him more than a minute to get up.
"I'm young, so I've got to get used to it and take the big hits like a man," Rose said.
The No. 2 University of Memphis had to absorb plenty of bruises Wednesday in its first true road game of the season, from foul trouble to technical fouls, a mess of missed free throws and Cincinnati scoring runs.
But at the end of a 79-69 victory, Rose was still standing. And so is the Tigers' perfect 9-0 record.
"Out of all this stuff, we keep finding a way to win," senior point guard Andre Allen said. "That's the bottom line. As long as we win, we're not worried about the free throws, how nobody plays, how many points anybody scores. As long as we get the 'W,' that's all the matters at the end of the day."
Indeed, when the Tigers play No. 5 Georgetown on Saturday at FedExForum, it will have been more than one year since their last regular season loss. And though it hasn't always been pretty or efficient, Memphis just wins and wins and wins, no matter the circumstances it faces.
There has perhaps been no better example of that this season than inside Fifth Third Arena, where a lesser team might have come unglued Wednesday.
From blowing an early 12-point lead that became just one at halftime to letting a 15-point lead in the second half dwindle to 68-62 in the closing minutes to senior Joey Dorsey and coach John Calipari getting called for technicals in a 53-second span, the Tigers had plenty of opportunities to implode.
Instead, Memphis made all the crucial plays when it mattered, riding a transcendent performance by Rose, who scored a career-high 26 points, made 5-of-8 from 3-point range and dished out six assists in 33 minutes.
"I love him," junior guard Antonio Anderson said of Rose. And who wouldn't, really, after watching him make one clutch shot after another down the stretch, including a huge 3-pointer with 1:52 left to give Memphis a 73-64 lead.
Then, with 1:03 left and Cincinnati back within six points, Rose dribbled inside the arc and fed Anderson, who swished a 3-pointer from the corner to cap off his 12-point night and clinch the victory.
"I thought Cincy played great," Calipari said. "They made shots when they had to, they kept the game close, they did everything they could to give themselves a chance to win. And I had three guys who really stepped on the gas."
Of course, Calipari was talking about Rose and Anderson. But he could not leave out the contribution from Allen, who poured in nine points in 14 minutes, including two 3-pointers.
For Allen, who came into the game with just two 3-pointers on 19 attempts all season, it was a satisfying way to break out of his slump. Furthermore, when Calipari paired Allen with Rose and Willie Kemp in a three-point-guard lineup, the Tigers pushed a 44-40 lead to 54-42 with 9:49 to go.
"We went to that lineup, and they were leaving me open the whole game," Allen said. "Coach knew us three, we're going to play defense, we're going to be aggressive, we're going to take our open shots. So they left me open and I made shots."
And the Tigers needed to make open shots -- they went 12-for-28 from beyond the 3-point line -- against a Cincinnati team that stubbornly refused to come out of its zone defense except for a handful of possessions.
Though the Tigers were efficient from 3-point range, they also moved the ball crisply and got shots for Robert Dozier and Dorsey, who each scored eight points. Memphis shot 45.1 percent for the game and got to the foul line 36 times, making 21.
But perhaps the most impressive thing was that Memphis withstood three Cincinnati runs -- on the road in front of an announced crowd of 8,254 -- and never let the Bearcats get closer than four in the second half.
"It shows we won't never fold, really," Rose said. "Whatever you do, we're going to make a big play to calm everything down. That's all we were doing."
Of course, it helps to have Rose, who seemed like he was single-handedly fending off momentum every time he shot the ball.
"He was the difference in the game," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "You have to give him all the credit in the world. When he shoots the ball like that, he's a devastating player to deal with. He hurt us in every possible way."
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.