Sunday, January 27, 2008
Tigers remain undefeated with 81-73 win over Gonzaga
Tigers remain undefeated with 81-73 win over Gonzaga
First home game with No. 1 ranking a success
By Dan Wolken
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Don't turn your head, even for a second. Don't look at your cell phone, reach for your popcorn or, heaven forbid, get up and leave. For two hours, twice a week, when the University of Memphis puts its No. 1 national ranking on the line, just stare straight ahead and keep your eye -- literally -- on the ball.
Anything less than total focus, and you're liable to miss something special from this blur of a basketball team, which has never run faster, transitioned better or made good things happen quicker than it did Saturday in a 81-73 win over Gonzaga.
Turned your head? You just missed Joey Dorsey getting down the court in three humongous strides and throwing in a windmill dunk.
Looked at your cell phone? You just missed Chris Douglas-Roberts blowing by Austin Daye and reversing under the basket in a flash for an old-school layup that touched nothing but net.
Reached for your popcorn? You just missed Dorsey stuffing Matt Bouldin's 3-point attempt, which took all of two seconds to turn into a breakout dunk for Antonio Anderson.
Tried to beat the crowds to the restroom at halftime? You just missed Douglas-Roberts fight through a crowd and tip in his own miss with 48.6 seconds left, even with his body angled away from the rim. And you definitely missed freshman Derrick Rose elevate over everybody for a monster tip-dunk as the clock ran out.
"It's tough for us to simulate that up in Spokane," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
It's tough to simulate what these Tigers are doing anywhere. With all 18,152 sets of eyeballs at FedExForum clamoring for their first glimpse of the No. 1 team in the country, Memphis added heft to its ranking and 19-0 record with a victory as educational as it was entertaining.
While the Tigers' athleticism and speed was at times overpowering -- leading to at least a dozen highlight-reel moments -- they were also forced into a predicament few opponents can offer. Even as Memphis took control of the second half with a 7-0 run that pushed the lead to 53-41 with 13:48 to go, the Tigers had to keep making plays, keep making baskets until the clock ran out.
And Memphis did it by making 50 percent of its second-half field goals, out-rebounding Gonzaga 40-28 and committing just 11 turnovers, giving the Tigers enough breathing room to survive a batch of missed free throws down the stretch that kept the game going a few minutes longer than it needed to.
"That's preparing us for teams in the tournament," Douglas-Roberts, who made 7-of-11 field goals and scored 21 points, said. "They're going to do the same thing. They'll make us keep making plays because they're going to make plays. When you're an Elite Eight-level team, you're going to keep making plays, and that's what they did."
The Tigers made plays, too. Tons of them. And they tended to come in bunches, from the 10-0 spurt that opened the game, to the pair of alley-oops that started the second half and established Memphis' zone offense, to the 7-0 run the Tigers put together after Gonzaga cut the lead to 62-55 with 8:09 to go.
Many of those runs were initiated by senior forward Joey Dorsey, who had nine points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to spark a 23-8 edge in fast break points. And they were usually facilitated by Rose, who might have had his best all-around game to date with 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Rose went 6-for-12 from the field, and his ability to drive, stop and get off an open shot in the lane prevented Gonzaga (15-5) from putting together a big run in the second half.
"They're fast; they're athletic at every single spot," said Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo, who scored 25 points with seven assists. "They're almost unguardable, but you've got to slow those guys down some kind of way and do what you have to do to stop them."
For awhile, the Bulldogs did it with a zone defense that lulled the Tigers into taking too many 3-pointers -- they went 4-for-15 in the first half -- and by pushing the ball at every opportunity, not allowing Memphis to get set defensively in the halfcourt.
After sophomore Doneal Mack's 3-pointer gave the Tigers a 25-13 lead, Gonzaga scored 11 straight points, then took the lead with 2:17 to go in the half on a Micah Downs' second 3-pointer. But the Tigers scored the last four points of the half -- all on second-effort plays -- to lead 35-32 going into the break, setting the stage for another dramatic second half in a series that produced them the last two years.
But despite making 14-of-29 field goals in the final 20 minutes, Gonzaga could not catch up to the Tigers, who now could be sprinting toward something unique with just a few legitimate challenges in the way of a possible undefeated season.
"On the road, any of these teams (can beat Memphis)," Tigers coach John Calipari said. "We almost lost to SMU a year ago. I think there will be two games where the other team will play out of their minds and we just won't have it that game. To go unblemished with what we have left ... Are we good? Yeah, we're good. Are we that good? Maybe in two weeks; we're not right now. But ... I wouldn't trade them for any team in the country."
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.
As the game turned
After Gonzaga got back into the game by playing zone and forcing the Tigers to take outside shots, the start of the second half was crucial for Memphis. Leading just 35-32 at the break, Memphis came out on the first possession with a lob play, which freshman Derrick Rose executed perfectly to Chris Douglas-Roberts for a slam. Then, Rose hit a 3-pointer from the wing 1:22 into the half, and the Tigers built the lead back to 42-34 just seconds later after a Joey Dorsey block led to Antonio Anderson's transition dunk. After a timeout, Memphis nearly forced a shot-clock violation -- Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo missed a jumper at the buzzer -- and Robert Dozier made two free throws shortly thereafter to push the edge back to 10.
As the rotation turned
As has become his custom in marquee games this season, coach John Calipari rode his starters against Gonzaga. Four starters played more than 30 minutes, led by Douglas-Roberts' 35. Dorsey, who was not in foul trouble until the very end, played 33 minutes, tying his season high. Calipari used Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack as top substitutes with 18 and 16 minutes, respectively. Sophomore Willie Kemp has been lost in the shuffle recently. He played four minutes against Tulsa -- Calipari pulled him after missing an open shot, failing to secure a rebound and committing a turnover -- and a career-low two minutes against Gonzaga.
There were plenty to choose from, especially in the first half. Two moments, however, stood out. The first was just 4:49 into the game, as the Tigers were running all over Gonzaga. After Pargo missed a runner in transition, Rose controlled the ball quickly and immediately looked downcourt, where Dorsey was all alone for a windmill jam. Then, with 10:44 left in the first half, Calipari was barking at Douglas-Roberts for not running hard enough to control a loose ball, which could have led to a breakout basket. So Douglas-Roberts made up for it by ripping the ball away from Micah Downs and whipping his body around as he elevated toward the basket for a dunk, giving Memphis a 22-10 lead.
Hide your eyes
Calipari was irritated with a few things Rose did as the Tigers were trying to grind out the final two minutes. On one possession, Calipari felt Rose was trying to be cute with the basketball, which could have led to a turnover. Moreover, Rose made just 2-of-6 free throws in the final 1:05 after going 4-for-4 earlier in the game. The Tigers had a big enough lead that it didn't matter too much, though Gonzaga was able to cut the lead to six and force Douglas-Roberts to make two with 21 seconds left. "He doesn't know one steal and a dunk, the game changes," Calipari said. "We miss some free throws, this isn't 11, 10. It's three."
The Tigers didn't get much off their transition game Wednesday at Tulsa, so a big focus Saturday was creating easy baskets whenever they got an opportunity to run. Gonzaga obliged with 13 turnovers, which wasn't a lot, but the Tigers got down court so quickly, they were able to convert them into 21 points. Gonzaga wasn't nearly as proficient in the transition game, scoring just seven points off Memphis' 11 turnovers.
"You can't make a mistake on teams like Gonzaga. They'll capitalize on every mistake; that's why we needed a game like this. A lot of teams we've played haven't capitalized on our mistakes, so we didn't know what to do and what not to do. They're a great team at every position; they can hit the three and dribble and pass." -- Douglas-Roberts
Odds and ends
Calipari joined Larry Finch as the only Memphis coaches with 200 victories, improving to 200-63 in his eighth season.
Calipari said earlier this week that he needed to find more minutes for Mack due to his ability to score points in bunches. The sophomore guard did his job Saturday, scoring nine points in 16 minutes, though he went just 2-for-8 from the 3-point line.
"Whoever is scoring out of (the bench), you leave them in there," Calipari said. "Because we'll smother you on defense, so if we have a guy who can make a three, (the lead) is 12, 14, 16 , and if we're not scoring, you go with those guys. They score."
Both Calipari and Gonzaga coach Mark Few said they want to extend this series beyond next year's meeting at Spokane Arena, and the conversation prompted Calipari to divulge some future scheduling plans. He mentioned that he is working on potential neutral-site games with Arkansas and Kansas for future years.
"Why neutral? It prepares you for the NCAA Tournament," Calipari said. "Going on the road does nothing for you to prepare you for the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't do anything except add losses to your team. You'd rather play on neutral sites, half and half. That's the NCAA Tournament; get used to it. I've just got to find more teams that are willing to do it. We've got some teams that just want to come to Memphis and recruit and don't care what it does for us. They just want to be here, and most of those teams, we just don't play anymore."
Anderson finally committed a turnover with 4:31 left in the game when he had the ball stripped. He had gone five games without a turnover and has not committed more than one in a game since Dec. 15 against Middle Tennessee.
Dozier went 0-for-5 from the field, failing to make a basket for the first time since going 0-for-3 against Oklahoma on Nov. 15. The junior forward is 1-for-12 in the Tigers' last two games.
Tigers at Houston, 7 p.m. Wednesday
- Dan Wolken