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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Douglas-Roberts slams doubters

Douglas-Roberts slams doubters

Criticize if you will, but 'we just go out and play'

By Scott Cacciola
Sunday, April 6, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Chris Douglas-Roberts looked mad. He thought he had gotten bumped grabbing a defensive rebound against UCLA on Saturday night, but no whistles were forthcoming. So he tucked that anger away for all of 10 seconds.

All season, the University of Memphis has been fueled by what the team's players and coaches describe as disrespect, by doubters, by people who have no idea what the Tigers do, or how they do it, or why. But during the Tigers' romp through the NCAA Tournament, this team is turning skeptics into believers by making roadkill of opponents. And sometimes they do it by posterizing all-Americans.

So after Douglas-Roberts snatched that rebound and glared at one of the officials -- "I was very upset," he said -- he sprinted down the court, took a backdoor bounce pass from Antonio Anderson and rose for a left-handed dunk over Kevin Love, UCLA's vaunted freshman center.

That one play was the crowning moment of Memphis' 78-63 victory over UCLA in the Final Four and in some ways typified the Tigers' entire season and Douglas-Roberts' unique role.

"We believe in ourselves," said Douglas-Roberts, a junior guard. "That's really all that matters to us. When we hear (negativity), we laugh because we don't understand it, we don't know where it came from. ... We just go out and play."

Though freshman guard Derrick Rose, who added to his growing mystique by scoring 25 points, has been the more celebrated player during the Tigers' tournament run, Douglas-Roberts has been more than content to occupy his familiar function as an understated leader. Seldom has an all-American so easily blended into the scenery, been so efficient with so little fanfare.

Most of the attention he had drawn this spring centered on what pundits have described as his "old-school game," an eclectic mix of spins and hooks and fade-aways and post-up moves, a repertoire more reminiscent of the ABA than the NCAA, more World B. Free than LeBron James.

But against UCLA, there was something more direct about his game on this stage, something more aggressive, something more determined. Gone were the fade-aways, replaced by lower-the-shoulder drives against a diet of different defenders.

Penny Hardaway, the former Memphis standout who made the trip to San Antonio and visited with players in the locker room after the game, said he told Douglas-Roberts before the team left Memphis to stay hungry.

"He's just a guy who understands what it takes to step up and keep a chip on your shoulder," Hardaway said. "Never be satisfied. I told him when he starts getting satisfied, he should stop playing basketball."

Douglas-Roberts' stat line was monstrous: 9-of-17 from the field, 9-of-11 from the free-throw line, 28 points, four rebounds, two steals, one block. He avoided jump shots and drove headlong toward the basket. He attempted just two 3-pointers, sinking one.

Those rare occasions when Douglas-Roberts was absent from the game -- he played 35 of the 40 minutes -- were noticeable. With about 14 minutes left in the second half, he headed to the bench for a breather, the Tigers ahead by nine points. Two UCLA layups later, coach John Calipari called for time and basically shoved Douglas-Roberts toward the scorer's table.

If Calipari has been accused of lacking game-day coaching acumen by various writers -- one particularly scathing column ran in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday -- then here was coaching at its finest: Get Douglas-Roberts back in the game.

Mere seconds after he took the court, he threw in a right-handed hook over Westbrook, the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year. Westbrook had pressed his chest to Douglas-Roberts' chest, with poor results: At 6-3, Westbrook was not long enough to contain Douglas-Roberts, who stands 6-7 and has elastic, Inspector Gadget-like limbs.

"They tried everybody on me," he said, referring to UCLA's defense. "They tried four different matchups on me."

On Memphis' next possession, Douglas-Roberts ducked his head once more, drawing contact from Westbrook, then sank both free throws. Memphis' lead had grown back to nine. UCLA got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

"He makes big shots, clutch shots, plays defense, rebounds," junior forward Robert Dozier said. "He's just a winner."

After the final buzzer, Douglas-Roberts paced from one end of the court to the other, briefly pulling his jersey over his head before pulling it back down again. He did not smile, did not celebrate, did not scream and shout. He just kept walking, continuing his march toward history.

-- Scott Cacciola: 529-2773

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