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Friday, January 04, 2008

Tigers find their long-range shooting touch

Tigers find their long-range shooting touch
No. 2 Tigers 102, Siena 58
By Dan Wolken
Friday, January 4, 2008

As far as anyone at the University of Memphis knew, officials Ed Hightower, Ted Hilary and John Higgins did not request ice bags upon exiting FedExForum Thursday night. But nobody would have been surprised, given the shoulder workout they received courtesy of the suddenly 3-point bombing Tigers.

For awhile on Thursday, that crew was hoisting its arms in the air at a breakneck pace, signaling 15 3-pointers for No. 2-ranked Memphis in a 102-58 rout of Siena.

Though the Tigers were dominant in all aspects in front of an announced crowd of 16,836, who witnessed a school record-tying 39th straight home win, nothing was more impressive than their long-range shooting.

In a first half that was closely contested for about six minutes, Memphis (12-0) broke the game open by making 11-of-15 from the 3-point line, going into halftime with a 49-24 lead. It was the most 3-pointers in a half in school history, besting a 10-of-18 performance against Marquette on Feb. 24, 2004.

"We're going to be very tough to beat (when shooting like that)," said junior forward Robert Dozier, who chipped in two of those 3-pointers. "Sometimes it's streaky with our shooting. But when guys are knocking it down, it makes the game a lot easier for us and it puts the opposing team in a difficult position."

Though Memphis has had some success shooting the 3-pointer this season -- the Tigers made 13 against Arkansas State and 12 against Cincinnati -- it had not been a factor recently. In their past two games, the Tigers had made just nine total 3-pointers and saw their season percentage sink to 33.7.

Given the numbers, it was sound strategy for Siena (7-5) to start the game in a tightly-packed zone, and the Tigers cooperated by failing to penetrate for the first few minutes. But once junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts got going -- he made 5-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half and finished with 19 points -- it didn't take Memphis long to compile some staggering offensive numbers.

In addition to 27 assists on 38 baskets with just 10 turnovers, Memphis scored 102 points despite missing 21 free throws. Three Tigers finished with double-doubles, including Dozier (13 points, 12 rebounds) and senior forward Joey Dorsey (12 points, 14 rebounds).

"Obviously, we shot the three better than we've shot the three, which is why the score was what it was," coach John Calipari said. "They'll win their league; I'll be surprised if they don't, and we just made shots."

Though the Tigers could not keep up that pace in the second half -- they fell one 3-pointer short of the school record -- they didn't need to. After a 10-1 Siena run coming out of the locker room to pull within 16, Memphis sprinted away again with layups in quick succession by Douglas-Roberts, Dorsey and Derrick Rose to spark an 11-0 run.

But the real story of the second half was the breakout game by freshman forward Jeff Robinson, who struggled to find a spot in the rotation for the first 11 games. Robinson, a top-50 recruit who has the most impressive physique on the team this side of Dorsey, played in just seven of those games and hadn't done much when given an opportunity.

That all changed in the second half, when Robinson came out of nowhere to finish with a team-high 20 minutes and 10 rebounds in 12 minutes, punctuating his night with a windmill dunk right before the buzzer. Robinson's hustle also earned the approval of a crowd that showered him with a standing ovation after he power-slammed an off-the-backboard alley-oop thrown by walk-on Chance McGrady for a 94-51 lead.

"I was making the transition from high school to college; it was a little bit different, I was a little nervous," said Robinson, who went 9-for-12 from the field. "So I just had to work my way in and wait for my turn. I've been working out with coach, and that's been giving me a lot of confidence, and getting me ready for the games to play fast and rebound, and I have more confidence in myself."

Robinson led a strong night for the bench, which contributed 45 points and gave the Tigers' starters a chance to rest after they shouldered the load during a grinding month of December.

"I love the fact that the guys on the bench performed," Calipari said. "When you get your minutes, get in there and perform and prove you should be playing more. We needed a game where we could get a lot of people playing time."

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

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