Tigers Cruise Past UT Arlington, 87-63
March 21, 2008
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The last thing Memphis wanted was a first-round pushover.
UT Arlington, making its NCAA tournament debut, actually led the top-seeded Tigers in the opening minutes. Chris Douglas-Roberts' layup sparked a 15-2 run that effectively ended any hopes the Mavericks had for a momentous upset, and Memphis cruised to an 87-63 victory Friday night in the first round of the South Regional.
But the Mavericks left an impression on Memphis, not to mention a few bumps and bruises.
"The time off, the body-to-body contact that we hadn't done in five days, it showed," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "I think they realize if they do that next game, it's been a heck of a year. It's not going to extend."
Douglas-Roberts led five Tigers in double figures with 23 points, and he also had seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. Derrick Rose and Antonio Anderson added 17 points each for Memphis, which improved to 34-1 with its eighth straight victory.
Next up is eighth-seeded Mississippi State (23-10), which beat Oregon 76-69 earlier Friday night.
"They're unbelievable," UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said of Memphis. "They have 10 players - their second five could probably start for a majority of the teams in the NCAA tournament."
That the Tigers are one of the most talented teams in the country isn't a question. They lost one measly game all year, had the country's longest winning streak and were ranked No. 1 for five weeks, three as the unanimous choice.
But because Memphis plays in Conference USA and not one of the power conferences, some will always see the Tigers as just a little suspect. This game probably won't do much to change that.
Memphis shot about 52 percent from the floor, had seven steals and outrebounded the smaller UT Arlington 39-29. They were 9-of-20 from 3-point range, including 2-of-2 by Rose. But big ole Anthony Vereen scored practically at will inside, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and the Mavericks were over 50 percent from the floor for much of the game. Jermaine Griffin had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Rog'er Guignard added 10 points.
Calipari didn't even send in the scrubs until there were about 20 seconds left.
"They had to play their guys for 40 minutes," Cross said. "They were playing their top guys, and we gave them everything that we had."
That's exactly how the Tigers wanted it, though. They hadn't played since winning the C-USA tournament last Saturday, and Calipari said the Tigers needed a rough-and-tumble game to get them ready for the rest of the tournament.
"This is the type of game we needed in the first round because this shows how the rest of the tournament is going to be," Douglas-Roberts said. "The next game is going to be even tougher. I'm glad they came out and challenged us, and they really did compete out there."
No 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1, but it doesn't keep the little guys from dreaming.
Never mind that it took 49 years of play for UT Arlington to get to the tournament, or that it plays in the little-known Southland Conference. Or that the Tigers were essentially playing a home game. With Memphis only two hours away, the stands were packed with Tigers fans - right down to the woman in the blue-and-tiger-print shirt who was waving a sign with Calipari's face.
For a few glorious moments, the Mavericks were actually living the dream.
"It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I'm so happy to be a part of this whole experience and I've never been happier or more proud to be a Maverick," said Cross, who played at UTA.
UT Arlington scored the first two baskets of the game and took a 6-3 lead not even three minutes into the game, delighting its small band of faithful. And even when the inevitable happened and Memphis piled on the points, the Mavericks continued playing as if they really believed they could win the game.
When Vereen drew a hard foul on a layup midway through the second half, he turned to the small band of UTA faithful and let out a scream heard all around the arena. The fans - including seven guys who'd painted their chests blue and spelled out U-T-A M-A-V-S in orange - gave him a standing ovation.
"He was a load inside," Douglas-Roberts said. "He played with intensity. Heart carried him this game."
But heart only goes so far. Talent eventually wins out.
"It was like pulling teeth a little bit to get our guys going some," Calipari said. "We needed that, though. It took a couple of our guys in the second half to change, to play differently, to play rougher and we kind of spread it out. When I look at these numbers, they're all pretty good."
None more so than the final score.