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Friday, March 07, 2008

Freshman Rose proving he can carry Tigers if they need him in big games

Freshman Rose proving he can carry Tigers if they need him in big games
By Dan Wolken
Monday, March 3, 2008

The game seemed to be slipping away, the shot clock neared the danger zone and the University of Memphis needed a basket in the worst way. Facing a 2-3 zone defense that seemed impenetrable, the ball swung to freshman Derrick Rose, who decided the situation called for something special.

Perhaps it was calculated. Perhaps it was just the instinct of a special basketball talent. But with 14:39 remaining at Southern Miss on Saturday, Rose got the ball and took off, dribbled twice into the zone with his left hand and let four defenders collapse on him. Instead of kicking out, Rose switched the ball to his right hand and let a shot go high off the glass.

When it fell through, it not only began a barrage of 22 second-half points for Rose, but it also sparked the No. 2 Tigers to a 76-67 comeback victory in Hattiesburg, improving their record to 28-1 overall and 14-0 in Conference USA.

"We knew we had to step it up," junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "And the players on our team who were supposed to make plays did."

And now, it's more apparent than ever who is supposed to make plays for the Tigers entering the final week of the regular season.

With more down-to-the-wire games likely in store for Memphis as the NCAA Tournament nears, Rose has proven himself worthy of carrying the Tigers if necessary.

After struggling at UAB on Feb. 16 -- he went 2-for-13 from the field in Memphis' last-minute comeback -- Rose has seen his game mature in the past two weeks to a level that should encourage coach John Calipari, who already had one proven game-finisher in Douglas-Roberts.

"He has such a will to win," Calipari said. "He does whatever it takes."

Even in a 66-62 loss to Tennessee, it was Rose giving the Tigers a chance with 23 points, making one difficult shot after another in the second half.

Which makes Rose's failing to take the final shot against Tennessee even more bewildering. With 26.7 seconds remaining and the Tigers down by a point, Calipari chose not to call time out and set up, primarily because he only had one timeout left. With Tennessee's ability to defend inbounds plays, Calipari did not want his team to risk a five-second call and blow an opportunity to win.

So he let it play out. But when Douglas-Roberts couldn't get anything going toward the rim -- he was hobbled a bit by an ankle injury -- Antonio Anderson ended up with the ball and tried to create an opportunity. Though Calipari was fine with Anderson's taking the shot, even though he lost control of the ball going up, Rose was never really involved in the play.

That probably won't happen again should the Tigers encounter a similar situation down the road.

Though the final minutes Saturday at Southern Miss weren't necessarily as pressure-packed, the baskets Rose made to rescue Memphis were every bit as significant. In a second half where every possession mattered, and Southern Miss made one shot after another to keep momentum, Rose's personal highlight reel included:

An alley-oop to senior Joey Dorsey with 13:56 remaining, bringing Memphis to within 45-41.

A pull-up jumper from 17 feet with 13:18 to go, closing the gap to two points.

A long transition feed to Andre Allen, creating a layup that tied the game with 10:56 left.

Another drive with his left hand that he finished for a layup at the 10:00 mark, right after Craig Craft ignited the crowd with a 3-pointer.

A 3-pointer from the top to tie the game with 8:36 left.

A three-point play with 6:00 left, finishing a layup off Anderson's shot-pass despite a bump from Sai'Quon Stone.

Another 3-pointer against the zone with 5:00 remaining, this time from the wing, establishing an eight-point lead.

"It was a big game," Rose said. "Everybody had to step up. Playing in this environment was huge. For us to come out here and win was real important."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365.

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