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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tigers Win at Houston, Move to 20-0, Kansas Falls at Kansas State

Tigers defeat Houston, move to 20-0
By Dan Wolken

HOUSTON – The first time senior forward Joey Dorsey came to the bench for a rest, coach John Calipari stopped right in front of him and screamed over the noise in a jam-packed Hofheinz Pavilion.

“C’mon,” Calipiari said, trying to cajole more effort out of his big man. “This is an NCAA Tournament game!”

Though the University of Memphis did not actually play an NCAA Tournament game on Wednesday, the No. 1-ranked Tigers faced a test about as close as they could find for Jan. 30. And like every other test this season, they passed, beating Houston 89-77

As an undefeated run through the regular season now becomes more and more of a possibility for Memphis, which improved to 20-0, the Tigers are not likely to face a regular-season situation more difficult than Wednesday.

Against a Houston team playing for its NCAA Tournament life, the Tigers overcome a hostile environment, an early deficit and a late run to secure their 29th straight win in Conference USA. They did it by shooting 58.5 percent from the field, out-rebounding the Cougars 49-29 and by taking control of the game with a 13-0 run in the first half thanks to consecutive 3-pointers by sophomore guard Willie Kemp.

The victory, combined with Kansas’ loss at Kansas State, left Memphis as the nation’s lone undefeated team. It also gave Memphis a one-game lead over Houston in the C-USA race and practically crushed the Cougars’ hopes of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, unless they can upset the Tigers at FedExForum on Feb. 13.

Early on, however, it appeared as though this might be Houston’s night as the Tigers committed three turnovers on their first four possessions and trailed 18-11 with 11:56 left in the first half. But Kemp helped turn the game with timely baskets, and the Tigers pulled away to an 11-point lead at halftime.

Memphis then scored the first eight points of the second half to lead 54-35, but Houston didn’t make it easy for the Tigers to finish off the game. The Cougars crawled back within 70-62 with 8 minutes remaining, but Memphis never let it slip further thanks to a defense that held Houston to 35.3 percent from the floor and 5-for-22 from the 3-point line.

Chris Douglas-Roberts gave the Tigers two straight baskets – a tough baseline runner and a transition dunk – to push the edge back to 12. Douglas-Roberts made 9-of-13 from the field and finished with 28 points.

The Tigers finally finished it off with 3:23 to go when Dorsey’s putback dunk gave them an 80-65 lead. It was Dorsey’s 19th rebound of a career-high 21. With a big size advantage, Memphis dominated inside. Junior forward Robert Dozier scored 21 points on 9-of-13 from the field, including consecutive buckets that gave the Tigers a 78-63 lead.

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