Monday, February 25, 2008
Fox Sports Jeff Goodman - Tennessee proved toughness in win over Memphis
Tennessee proved toughness in win over Memphis
by Jeff Goodman
Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Memphis leader Antonio Anderson refused to speak after the loss. Chris Douglas-Roberts sat in his locker with his jersey draped over his head, desperately trying to hide from the disappointment. He wouldn't even give the Tigers' No. 1 fan, William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, the time of day. Joey Dorsey had his head down with his hands folded, and no one even dared to approach him.
The night couldn't have gone any worse for the Tigers and coach John Calipari, as their unbeaten season went down the drain against, off all teams, the Tennessee Vols.
It was No. 1 vs. No. 2, and just the fifth time in history that a pair of in-state schools were meeting ranked 1-2. It was also Calipari vs. Bruce Pearl in a battle of two of the best promoters in the country. These guys just don't like each other.
Memphis came into the game as the last team standing — the final team in the entire country without a blemish on its record. The Tigers were also at home, where they had won 47 straight. They were supposed to win this game.
The Vols came in at No. 2 — the highest ranking in school history.
It may not have been Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the atmosphere was off the charts. Fans swarmed Beale Street in downtown Memphis hours before the game. Peyton Manning was there. So was Priscilla Presley. Justin Timberlake was expected to attend.
"I can't imagine anything more electric," Pearl said. "This was as good as it gets."
The Memphis players attempted their usual intimidation tactics in the hallway prior to the game by yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs at the Vols, with a security guard standing between the two clubs. Pearl's team maintained its composure, then displayed its toughness.
"They got up near us," said Tennessee's Tyler Smith, who finished with 16 points in the 66-62 victory. "They were talking crazy to us."
"We don't fear anyone," Vols shooting guard Chris Lofton said. "We weren't worried."
These types of games rarely live up to the hype, but this one did. The two teams combined to make the first seven shots in a crisp, well-played and intense first half.
Memphis was unconscious early on from long range, making 7 of 13 trifectas to begin the game. However, the Vols were feeling good about themselves when they went into halftime trailing by just one point.
After the break, Memphis native J.P. Prince — or as Calipari had recently taken to calling him, P.J. — took control. Prince, who grew up as a diehard Memphis fan and actually wore his Memphis shorts to sleep Friday night, scored six consecutive points in a key spurt early in the second half and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
"I bet he won't say my name wrong now," Prince said with a wide grin.
Memphis is still 26-1 and has the inside track on a No. 1 seed, but it'll be difficult to rebound from this one. It's not as if the Tigers can regain a measure of respect by going out and pounding a ranked team. They play in a conference with no other Top 25 teams.
Tigers forward Robert Dozier was one of the few players who would talk to the media after the disheartening loss.
"They out-toughed us tonight," he said.
Calipari said his team didn't play with the same level of intensity it has shown throughout most of the season.
"This isn't about being cool," Calipari said. "It's about looking at the guy next to him and saying, 'I'm going to dominate him.'"
"I felt empty," Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose said.
Rose carried the Tigers, especially down the stretch. He made a couple of sensational baseline jumpers — one of which gave Memphis a 59-58 lead with 3:32 remaining.
Tyler Smith's basket gave the Vols a 62-61 advantage with 28 seconds left, and on the game's most important possession, Rose never even touched the ball. Anderson misfired badly with 10 seconds left, and the irony isn't just that Prince won the game, but that he did it from the charity stripe by sinking a pair of free throws.
Memphis is the worst foul-shooting team in the country, and the Tigers made just 8-of-17 from the line Saturday night. Their weakness finally caught up with them. Andre Allen missed a pair and Douglas-Roberts missed a one-and-one in the final five minutes.
"I knew this day would come," said Prince, who sat out last season after transferring from Arizona. "I couldn't have written it any better."
In fact, Prince and his teammates wrote it so well that it left the team that never stops talking speechless.