Memphis Cruises To Third Straight C-USA Championship Title
March 15, 2008
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - John Calipari doesn't have to lobby for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament - his Memphis Tigers let their play talk for him.
Antonio Anderson scored 19 points, and No. 2 Memphis added a third straight Conference USA tournament championship to the Tigers' third consecutive regular-season title by routing Tulsa 77-51 Saturday for a 42nd straight league win in a dominating performance.
Calipari said he and his Tigers can't do anything else now.
"We just played on national television, and people saw us. Hopefully, we're a (No.) 1 seed. Where they put us and where they rank us in those ones, what do we do about it now? It doesn't matter. They saw it. They watched it. If there's people out there better than us, they'll be rated higher than us. I will be surprised if we're not a (No.) 1 seed," Calipari said.
The Tigers (33-1) dismantled a tired team by shooting 56.6 percent from the floor and hit 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Calipari said he told Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik his Golden Hurricane just hit Memphis on a bad day.
"They are a legitimate contender to win it all," Wojcik said.
Anderson hit four of five from 3-point range to become the third player to lead the Tigers in scoring in as many games. He and Chris Douglas-Roberts, who added 16 points, went a combined 14-of-17 from the floor. Jeff Robinson had 11 off the bench. Shawn Taggart dribbled out the final seconds even as both teams started shaking hands.
Winning never gets old, said Anderson, who called the Tigers fortunate.
"We're just blessed we got put in this situation and lucky we chose to come here and play for Coach and he gave us the opportunity to go out and play our style of basketball and do what we need to do to win these games," Anderson said.
Tulsa 7-footer Jerome Jordan had 15 points and Ben Uzoh added 13.
The Tigers didn't need the automatic berth to play in the NCAA tournament for a fifth time in six seasons and 21 overall. Finishing the season with their seventh straight win strengthens their case for a second No. 1 seed in three seasons after tying the school record for wins in a season and matching the 33 wins of the past two seasons.
These Tigers will also be going into the NCAA tournament as only the 28th team with at least 30 wins. Saturday's victory also moved them into sole possession of fifth place for most wins in a three-year period with 99. Only Kentucky, with 104 between 1994 and 1996 and 102 between 1947-1949, Montana State (102) and Duke (101) have won more in a three-year span.
"They're taking us along for a ride, and I'm including me and my staff," Calipari said.
Seventh-seeded Tulsa's only hope of getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 was winning the tournament title to earn the automatic bid.
Trying to become the first Conference USA team to win four games in four days since Saint Louis in 2000 was just too much for the Golden Hurricane (20-13), who already had become the first team in tournament history to play back-to-back overtime games to get to the final.
Asked about fatigue, Wojcik pointed to his team's poor shooting. His guards were 0-of-14. Uzoh admitted it was tough.
"You try to push it to the side, but as much as you try, you still feel the aches and the pains," the sophomore guard said.
Tulsa was tired even though it played an eight-man rotation. Even a team with fresh legs would likely have struggled to slow the Tigers, who put on a show to make one last impression before the No. 1 seeds are selected Sunday.
Memphis beat Tulsa for the seventh straight time and for the 15th time in 16 games with the Golden Hurricane's lone win in that stretch coming in the 2001 NIT semifinals.
Tulsa never got close after the second and final tie at 4-all. Wojcik went into the zone to try and slow down Memphis.
It didn't work.
Anderson hit a 3 over the zone, and Douglas-Roberts added another 3 to push the lead to 14-4. Anderson finished off a fastbreak with a layup and hit the free throw for a three-point play.
The Tigers opened by pressing from the start, then Calipari sent five Tigers to the scorer's table to sit and wait to substitute in a demoralizing sight for Tulsa. After taking over for the starters with a 21-6 lead, Memphis' substitutes hit four of their five shots and pushed the lead to 33-11 before the starters came back.
Rose, who led the Tigers with 25 points in the semifinals, was the only Memphis starter to miss more than one shot early. He finally hit his first with 2:45 left for a 39-11 lead. Tulsa finished the half by hitting only three of its last 17 shots and missing all nine 3-point attempts, helping Memphis push its lead to 42-13 at the break.
In the second half, it was almost like a scrimmage and pep rally as Memphis led by as many as 33 points.
Rose offered up one nice sequence. He blocked a shot by Brett McDade, Calvin Walls got the rebound for Tulsa and Rose tried to take the charge, forcing Walls to change his shot and miss the layup. Rose leapt high for the rebound and fed the ball to Anderson for a 3-pointer and a 53-20 lead with 15:32 to go.
Calipari said Rose was above the rim if not at the rim when he grabbed the rebound.
"I just shook my head like, `Wow.' That's what he does. The times he plays hardest is when he turns it over and then runs the guy down," Calipari said.
This is the second straight year that Memphis has gone undefeated in league play during the season, then added the tournament championship. Only Davidson in the Southern Conference managed that feat this year, while Winthrop matched Memphis last season.