Memphis Hopes to Make its Point - or Maybe 100 - Against UCLA
April 4, 2008
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Should be easy to tell who wins the UCLA-Memphis game. Just look at the scoreboard.
If Memphis puts up 80 points, the Tigers are in good shape. At 90, they're pretty much set. At 100, it's a virtual lock.
As much as the Final Four matchup will become a showcase for freshmen Derrick Rose and Kevin Love, the first of Saturday's semifinals also will be a test of tactics.
Can coach John Calipari's suddenly chic "dribble drive motion" offense break down UCLA's coach Ben Howland's rugged defense?
"All we're going to do is have fun," Calipari said Thursday. "If it leads us to something good on Monday night, have at it, we're going to have a ball. I want these kids to feel nothing but, 'Let's go play, show what we're about. Let's make statements.'
"But the biggest thing is when they watch us we're hugging each other, we're smiling," he said. "If they're out there and you watch them and you say, 'Wow, that team has more fun than any other team,' then I've done my job. That's what I'm trying to do."
That, and help lead the Tigers (37-1) to their first NCAA men's basketball championship.
Memphis looks to score in a hurry, either off the break or its normal set, leaving the middle open and encouraging Rose, All-America guard Chris Douglas-Roberts or anyone to take the ball to the basket and create a play.
"Calipari, I think, said they're kind of like Princeton on steroids. They're going to be very tough to defend," Love said.
It's worked well for them this season, with the Tigers scoring 90 points on eight occasions and topping 100 three times.
UCLA, meanwhile, has not reached 100 points in a game since December 2002. The Bruins never even scored 90 this season.
That's fine with Love, Darren Collison and their teammates. UCLA (35-3) is making its third straight appearance in the Final Four, and the Bruins have done it mostly by jamming up their opponents - two weeks ago, they held overmatched Mississippi Valley State to 29 points, the fewest in the NCAA tournament since 1946.
Witness what happened two seasons ago when UCLA twice played Memphis. In November at Madison Square Garden, the Tigers won 88-80; that March in a regional final, the Bruins won 50-45.
"The key between those two games was our defensive effort. We didn't play nearly as good defense when we played in the Garden against them. That's why the score was so high," Collison said this week.
"In the tournament, we played extremely well on the defensive end and the score was low. That was one of the games that identified us as a defensive team. That's the type of effort we're going to need to win this game," he said.
UCLA did fine Thursday, at least in a test run. While the teams practiced at gyms elsewhere, workers at the Alamodome checked out the scoreboard. When the horn went off after a first-half time trial, it showed the Bruins leading 41-30.
Come Saturday, UCLA will get its first look at Rose. A third-team All-America guard, he could play his final college game in the next few days. Extremely athletic at 6-foot-3, he already has an NBA body and skills.
UCLA prefers to play man-to-man much more than zone, and Collison will likely start out guarding Rose. Russell Westbrook and others should get a turn, too.
"He reminds me of Jason Kidd. He has a Jason Kidd-type body, he's so strong and physical," Howland said. "He defends like Kidd and he's a much better shooter at the same stage. I can't think of higher praise because I love Kidd."
If and when Rose breaks clear, the 6-foot-10 Love figures to be waiting for him in the lane.
They have different games, but Love and Rose share one trait: While freshmen often wear down during a long season, they've gotten better through March and into April.
From far away, Love has managed to monitor Rose.
"He's been doing a great job. I watched a couple interviews with him earlier in the year. He mentioned that at first there was a little bit of jealousy and he didn't know really where he fit in," he said. "But hey, he blossomed, no pun intended with the rose thing."