Memphis is On Such a Roll, Even Foul Shooting Hasn't Been a Problem
April 7, 2008
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The Memphis Tigers reached the finals of the NCAA tournament by being more accurate from the foul line than their foes.
Yeah, you read that right: MORE accurate.
The Tigers, who had the worst free-throw percentage of all 65 teams in the field, hit 70.2 percent of their foul shots on the way to the title game, topping the 68.8 percent shot by the five teams they beat.
And, get this: Kansas entered Monday night's championship game making 65.9 percent in the NCAA tournament.
"I think I have mentally tough kids," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "If they're relaxed, they're going to make free throws."
The Tigers might have tensed up a bit in a second-round game against Mississippi State, making only 15-of-32. It also was their only close game, a three-point victory.
"I thought that was an eye-opener," said All-American guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. "We felt a lot of games were going to be close this tournament, so we talked amongst each other and said 'We have to make these free throws.' But they really haven't been close, so free throws really haven't been a burden."
Actually, good foul shooting the first 30 minutes is part of the reason the last 10 minutes haven't turned into a free throw contest - with Douglas-Roberts leading the way.
Since the Mississippi State game, he's gone 11-of-12 against Michigan State, 14-of-17 against Texas, then 9-of-11 in the national semifinal against UCLA.
Freshman Derrick Rose went 4-of-9 against Mississippi State. Since then, he's 24-of-27.
Calipari doesn't believe in serious free-throw drills because he figures it becomes a negative experience. So he came up with a game in which players go head-to-head, best-of-5, with the winners advancing.
Although the contest aspect was fun, most laughs came while guys were at the line, when the only rule was no tackling.
"You can yell, make noise, run up and down, throw anything across them to try to distract them," forward Robert Dozier said.
Dozier said backup point guard Willie Kemp has a dance that is the most distracting. Kemp's description: "I just go crazy up there, doing anything to make them miss. It works a lot. But most of the time it doesn't, because we have great free-throw shooters on this team."
The stats show he's right, at least during the NCAA tournament.
HIGH STEAKS: Regardless of which team won Monday night, a governor will have a nice, meaty meal soon.
In the usual wager between elected officials, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen put up pork ribs from Memphis' famous Rendezvous restaurant against steaks offered up by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
The bet came with an appetizer of trash-talking.
"A side of Jayhawk will be especially tasty with a nice Kansas steak, after the Memphis Tigers give us our first championship victory of the week," Bredesen said.
Sebelius' retort: "The Jayhawks are especially good at defeating tigers, even those from Memphis," she said, referring to Kansas' border rival, the Missouri Tigers.
ON THE HIGH Cs: The Kansas and Memphis pep bands got warmed up early, commandeering a couple of passenger barges and blaring their fight songs while floating along the River Walk canal.
Each school took a boat for its band and another for the cheerleaders, and they spent an hour making loops around the downtown channel. Fans from both teams jammed pedestrian bridges, overpasses and the walkways to show their colors and playfully shout down the opposing side.
No hijinks on the high seas, either, when the boats passed each other in tight quarters. Good thing Memphis made the Final Four rather than another team from Conference USA such as East Carolina - no need for any Pirates here.