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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bulldogs say Tigers a bit better than Vols

Bulldogs say Tigers a bit better than Vols
Gonzaga has rare insight after playing -- and losing to -- both
By Jim Masilak
Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's a shame Jeremy Pargo has business on the West Coast in late February. Gonzaga's junior point guard would love to be at FedExForum when No. 3 Tennessee visits the top-ranked University of Memphis in four weeks.

Having played and lost to both the Tigers and Vols this season, Pargo and the Bulldogs are uniquely positioned to assess one of the most highly anticipated games of the college basketball season.

Pargo expects it to be a can't-miss affair. He also expects the Tigers to win.

"It's gonna be a game to watch, I can tell you that," Pargo said in the aftermath of the Tigers' 81-73 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday at FedExForum. "They're pretty similar. Overall, I think Memphis is a little more athletic than Tennessee. Memphis probably has a pro in every single spot. They get out on the press and jump on people. Some of the stuff they do is unbelievable."

Gonzaga is one of just two common opponents between the Vols and Tigers, both of whom also defeated Middle Tennessee earlier this season. While Tennessee beat Gonzaga, 82-72, on a semi-neutral court in Seattle last month, the Bulldogs walked away from Saturday's slightly narrower road loss singing the Tigers' praises.

"I think Memphis has a better team," Gonzaga guard Micah Downs said. "Don't get me wrong; Tennessee has a really good team. But Memphis has the size at every position. (Point guard Derrick) Rose is 6-3, the two guards are 6-5 or 6-6, (Chris Douglas-Roberts) is 6-7, and they just get bigger and bigger when you go down the lineup."

Tennessee impressed the Bulldogs with its tenacity on defense and perimeter shooting. The Vols hit 10-of-29 3-point attempts and forced 18 turnovers against the Bulldogs, while Memphis went 6-of-24 and induced 13 turnovers.

Like Downs, however, Gonzaga forward David Pendergraft thinks the Tigers' superior frontcourt size could give them an edge.

While the Bulldogs out-rebounded the Vols, 34-32, when the teams met on Dec. 29, Memphis enjoyed a 40-28 edge on the boards in Saturday's game. Tennessee will likely have forward Duke Crews in the lineup to face the Tigers -- the 6-7 sophomore missed the trip to Seattle for medical reasons -- but the Vols are still relatively thin in the interior.

Pendergraft suspects Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart could have a field day in the paint against the Vols.

"They're a little bigger and more athletic than Tennessee," Pendergraft said. "Tennessee is tenacious and plays with a lot of energy ... but those three guys are gonna cause problems for Tennessee."

Junior forward Josh Heytvelt, who played sparingly against the Vols while recovering from a foot injury, also likes the Tigers' chances against their state rival.

"They play the same type of game, up-tempo and fast-paced. They play the same type of defense also," Heytvelt said in reference to the man-to-man tactics employed by both Memphis coach John Calipari and the Vols' Bruce Pearl. "It's a good matchup. I think Memphis has a little bit of an upper hand. They seem to click a little better than Tennessee."

Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin isn't sure which team to pick, but he isn't discounting Tennessee's chances.

"I don't know," he said. "I think Memphis will have a tough time with them because of how hard they play. Everybody on their team can make things happen and that makes them a big-time threat."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few was essentially non-committal when asked to assess the matchup based on first-hand experience. Like Pargo, however, he imagines it will be a spectacle.

"I think Memphis is probably more physical," Few said, "but the speed in that game is gonna be something."

The Tigers' victory over Gonzaga was their third in as many years, including an overtime thriller last year in Spokane. Those Bulldogs who have been around for all three encounters think this Memphis team is clearly superior to the previous two editions.

"I think this lineup has an edge," Pendergraft said. "A lot of those guys are more experienced on this team. They've got seniors out there who know how to run their system. That's the difference between Memphis and those other teams. They know how to handle situations, and they pass that knowledge down to younger guys like Derrick Rose so they can see what's expected in those situations. Because of that, I think this team gets the edge."

Few seemed to agree when he said that "Memphis has a chance to be real special."

"They seem to get along great," Few added. "They share it; they make the extra pass. Everybody's doing a good job -- as we like to say, pulling the rope.

"Memphis is terrific, really terrific, and they are worthy of No. 1."

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