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Friday, December 21, 2007

Tiger struggles to meet standard set 2 years ago

Tiger struggles to meet standard set 2 years ago
By Dan Wolken
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CINCINNATI -- When Antonio Anderson left Fifth Third Arena 728 days ago, having just played his seventh college game, he could not have anticipated that his accomplishments that night would remain, more than two years later, both legendary and bittersweet.

Legendary because of his 32 points, which propelled the University of Memphis to a 91-81 victory over Cincinnati. And bittersweet because Anderson has not come close to matching his output from that night when he made 7-of-9 from 3-point range and 11-of-15 overall.

Indeed, as Anderson has struggled to find his perimeter stroke, he has been looking forward to tonight, when the No. 2 Tigers return to the scene of his greatest performance.

"I wouldn't even have to shoot like I did the first time, but just go and make some shots," Anderson said. "That would get me back to thinking that I'm going to do it every game. I'm thinking that anyway, but when they're not falling, it's pretty tough."

For Cincinnati fans who remember Anderson from that night, it would probably be difficult to imagine how his career path has changed since then. Despite turning himself into one of the nation's premiere defensive players, building his body to overpower smaller guards and asserting his leadership during two straight Elite Eight runs, Anderson's shooting continues to perplex him.

After making 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman, Anderson dipped to 24.5 percent last season. And though he showed flashes of breaking out of the slump -- 4-for-8 against Rice was his best shooting night -- he never found his Cincinnati form and admits that he passed up open shots at times because of how badly he was struggling.

Not wanting to go through that again, Anderson spent hours and hours fine-tuning his stroke this past offseason.

It has not yet paid dividends. So far this year, Anderson has made just 24.1 percent, and it was clear early on that his frustrations were spilling over into other parts of his game. Not only were his assists down, but he had 22 turnovers through seven games after committing just 50 all of last season. He wasn't rebounding with the same aggression. He simply wasn't the same player.

"When the assist-to-turnover ratio went south, we were like, 'Oh my God,'" coach John Calipari said. "And you're not guarding real well and you're not rebounding. For a while, that's what he was. But when he played bad, it's nice to know that you've got people with you. He played poorly, but he knew we were all with him, the staff, the team."

Calipari knew it was just a matter of time until Anderson got his game together, and it happened Saturday in a 65-41 victory over Middle Tennessee. Anderson was at his boxscore-filling-best with nine points, six assists and six rebounds in a performance reminiscent of his best from last season.

Now, Anderson hopes to reach back a little bit further and remind people -- himself, most of all -- of his best from two seasons ago.

"I remember we won, and I was lights out," Anderson said. "That's all I can remember. It was a situation where Rodney (Carney) wasn't playing (well), wasn't hustling. Coach took him out and told him, 'I'm going to play the freshmen' -- talking about me and Chris (Douglas-Roberts) -- 'until you get your act together.' But we didn't want to come out. We were freshmen, it was the big time. So I just started making shots, and he didn't take us out."

Calipari doesn't miss an opportunity to remind Anderson about what happened that night.

"Rodney copped an attitude, so I just didn't play him," Calipari said. "I just said, 'You know what, we'll win without you.' And I didn't play him. And this kid went nuts. They didn't (guard) him and he just kept shooting. He was unbelievable."

Another night like that one would be useful against Cincinnati, which has struggled to a 4-5 record but played well against Xavier in a 64-59 loss one week ago. More important, Anderson hopes the scenery helps him break a slump extending into a second season.

"He couldn't miss a shot that night," junior forward Robert Dozier said. "When we get up there, it could happen again."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at

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