New York Dail News
Memphis tries to cope with loss
Monday, February 25th 2008, 4:00 AM
MEMPHIS - This was supposed to be a coronation for University of Memphis basketball.
Graceland, Elvis' family home, was bathed in blue in honor of the beloved Tigers. "I Hate Orange" T-shirts sprouted up all over campus and and a giant silver No.1 made its way into the student section of the sold-out FedEx Forum.
But the party fizzled before it ever got started in the jazz and blues clubs on Beale Street. Top-ranked Memphis lost to second-ranked Tennessee, 66-62, Saturday night in the biggest regular-season college game ever played in this state.
Memphis (26-1), which only has one dificult game remaining - against UAB at home - and gets to host the Conference USA tournament, still should be a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it wins out. But the Tigers no longer may be a lock to play in the South Regional at Houston now that the selection committee has seen some of their warts.
Everything, of course, is fluid, but Texas could get that prime location if the red-hot Longhorns (23-4) win the Big 12, with Tennessee (25-2) as the No.1 in Charlotte and North Carolina (25-2) the No.1 in Phoenix.
"Now people are going to start questioning us again, start doubting us again," said freshman point guard Derrick Rose, one of the few Memphis players with enough maturity to meet the press after the game.
For the first time during what had been a magic carpet ride, Memphis coach John Calipari made this highly anticipated event more about the prize than the game. He seemed more concerned all week with being the king of Dixie, the No.1 team from a non-BCS conference, and less with the task at hand.
Calipari is a good coach and has Final Four talent. But on Saturday night, he and his Tigers were trumped by Bruce Pearl's preparation and the Volunteers' execution.
Calipari did a good job disguising his team's vulnerability for the first 26 games of the year, but the Tigers' weaknesses all came out at exactly the wrong time.
After last year's game in Knoxville, Pearl knew Memphis was not a great shooting team. So he played a packed-in zone and dared the Tigers to beat the Vols from the perimeter. He gambled and won big. The Tigers made seven of their first 11 three-point attempts, but just one of their last 16, including the 12 straight misses at the end.
The Tigers, the fourth-worst team in the NCAA at the line, were stone cold again, making just eight of 17 free throws, including one of six in the final four minutes, a flaw that could be fatal in March.
Engimatic senior power forward Joey Dorsey, the Tigers' biggest inside threat and best interior defender, attempted to bully the Vols' front line just as he did last year against Ohio State's Greg Oden, with a similar lack of success. He only produced one point, no field goals and six rebounds in 28 minutes. Neither Dorsey nor foul-prone Robert Dozier was able to contain UT's more active frontcourt players. Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Tyler Smith constantly and effectively attacked the basket. Tennessee ripped the Tigers, 50-34, on the boards.
"It was just sloppiness," Calipari said. "I mean, we got 10 steals, nine blocks. We hold them to 37% from the floor and lose, that's no such thing. They outscrapped us on the backboard. I can remember J.P. Prince just ran by two guys.
"Joey and Robert and our inside people really were going to have to fight like heck and they tried but they got outfought. Our whole team did."
"We've just got to learn from it," Dozier said. "We lost. They just out-toughed us. They got every loose ball, every offensive rebound. They just outplayed us."