In retrospect, Tigers know they should avoid confrontations
By Jim Masilak
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Chris Douglas-Roberts doesn't think it's ever OK for a player to lay hands on a fan in anger. Or vice versa. But the situation the University of Memphis basketball team faced last Saturday in Birmingham would have tested anyone's limits, the Tigers' junior guard said.
"Nobody wants to be spit on, have beer thrown on you or water. I felt that they just reacted," Douglas-Roberts said of teammates who exchanged taunts and gestures -- and, in the case of sophomore forward Pierre Niles, physical contact -- with UAB fans in the wake of the Tigers' dramatic 79-78 victory at Bartow Arena. "You've just got to keep your cool. We've got a bull's-eye on our backs and we've got to keep our composure."
Conference USA officials are investigating what happened in the chaotic moments after No. 1-ranked Memphis (25-0 overall, 11-0 in C-USA) overturned a late seven-point deficit against the Blazers to remain unbeaten. It remains to be seen what the league office will make of photos that showed Niles making contact with a heckler's face as the Tigers, amid a hail of abuse and debris, made their way off the floor.
"No," Douglas-Roberts said when asked it it was ever OK for a player to touch or strike a fan. "But I don't think that they can jump over the railing or make contact with us."
Faced with such aggression, Douglas-Roberts said it's unreasonable to expect that players would simply "turn the other cheek."
"No," he said, "we can't do that."
Junior forward Robert Dozier thinks the Tigers, who travel to Tulane on Wednesday and host No. 2 Tennessee on Saturday, showed remarkable restraint given the circumstances.
"We're all human," Dozier said. "There's a point where we can only hold back for so long. ... I thought we did a pretty good job getting out of there."
Junior guard Antonio Anderson said he was quickly herded into the tunnel and didn't see much of the extracurricular action behind him.
"They thought they were gonna win and the students were approaching the court. They were gonna storm the court," Anderson said. "When we won (and their last-second shot) didn't count, some those guys ran on the court talking trash. They were throwing beer, spitting -- there was a lot of emotion."
Memphis coach John Calipari called the postgame scene an "ugly" one. He said a glass whiskey bottle thrown from the crowd came within three feet of hitting him and that Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson was pushed.
Calipari suggested that it was the actions of overexcited UAB fans, thinking the Blazers had won before Lawrence Kinnard's too-late game-winning shot was ruled out, that sparked the "melee."
"They went nuts," Calipari said.
At the same time, Calipari would have preferred a more disciplined response from his top-ranked team when some of those fans stormed the court.
"When they came out, there was body to body," Calipari said. "They were on the court pushing, shoving, spitting.
"As your team leaves, they must be mature enough to know a plastic cup is not gonna hurt you; popcorn is not gonna hurt you. Spit, water, beer -- you're taking a shower in about eight minutes. You run off the court and you go. It's a lesson for this team. This has never happened to our team before like this."
Memphis assistant media relations director Lamar Chance declined to make Niles available to the media Monday, citing C-USA's ongoing inquiry. Although Niles has played just once in the Tigers' past seven games, he figures to play an increased role Wednesday against Tulane in the absence of sophomore forward Shawn Taggart, who is out with a bruised right knee and broken nose.
Fallout from the Battle of Birmingham threatened to overshadow preparation for a week that will end with the state's first-ever top-two matchup. Tennessee (23-2) moved from No. 4 to No. 2 in both major polls after losses last week by No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Kansas.
The presence of several high-profile visitors to the Finch Center on Monday, including U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, suggested that this is is no ordinary week on the schedule. The Tigers, however, had little to say about their cross-state rivals with the Green Wave (15-9) first up on their agenda
"We're not worried about Tennessee," Anderson said.
"We're only looking at Tulane," Douglas-Roberts said.
-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311
Vols on Tigers' tail in the polls
Thanks to losses last week by Duke and Kansas, the Tennessee men's basketball team climbed to No. 2 Monday in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Top 25 polls. The University of Memphis remained a unanimous No. 1.
It's the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in either school's history and the first in college basketball since No. 2 Ohio State beat No. 1 Wisconsin last February. The No. 2 team has won five of the last six meetings with the top-ranked team since 1994.
It will be just the second time the city of Memphis has hosted a matchup of top-five teams. The first was just last Dec. 22, when then-No. 2 Memphis clobbered No. 5 Georgetown, 85-71.
The Vols are 2-10 all-time against No. 1 teams, beating Kentucky in 1966 and South Carolina in 1969. Tennessee didn't play another No. 1 team until last season, when it lost at No. 1 Florida in February and to No. 1 Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.