NCAA Tournament: Memphis, Texas meet today
By Jaime Aron
HOUSTON ó This is it, Memphis. Your big chance.
To prove you’re not an upset waiting to happen. To make up for losses in the regional final the last two years.
To declare Derrick Rose the best point guard in the land. To show that free throws are for getting into pickup games at the YMCA, not winning NCAA tournament games.
All the top-seeded Tigers have to do is beat second-seeded Texas in the South Regional final today and they’ll be off to the Final Four, forcing everyone to acknowledge that John Calipari’s one-loss team is as good as they keep saying they are.
And if they don’t?
“There’s nothing that would lead me to tell them I’m disappointed,” Calipari said Saturday. “Not even a bad game.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes hopes that bad game comes today. He will turn to D.J. Augustin to lead the Longhorns (31-6) past Memphis (36-1).
Memphis has a whopping 102 wins over the last three years. The only team to do better was Kentucky, circa 1996-98 ó and those Wildcats had two titles and a runner-up finish to show for it.
In a tournament famous for Cinderellas, the Tigers are hoping to wind up more like the Little Engine that Could ó going and going, then finally making perseverance pay off.
“The previous two years, we weren’t ready,” said Chris Douglas-Roberts, the team’s leading scorer. “We didn’t know what the NCAA the game was like, the intensity level, everything. But now we’re more experienced. We know how you have to start a game and we know how you need to start a half. … Any team with experience is always a better team.”
Memphis’ experiences include missing 14 straight 3-pointers in a regional final against UCLA two years ago and blowing a five-point lead late in the second half against Ohio State last year.
Still, even he knows the importance of getting over the hump now, with the guys who’ve gotten them to the brink, such as big man Joey Dorsey, a senior, and Douglas-Roberts, who is likely to offer his services to the NBA.
If this was the NFL combine, Texas wouldn’t have a chance. But on the court, the Longhorns can hold their own.
With a three-guard starting lineup of its own, this group has set a school record with 31 wins, despite having lost national player of the year Kevin Durant to the NBA.
Sensational sophomore Augustin makes the offense go, with A.J. Abrams the outside threat. Damion James is the slasher and Justin Mason the guy who does a little bit of everything. A collection of role players off the bench will keep things cranked up.
Put it this way: Told that Calipari threw out a score of 106-102, Barnes didn’t see anything outrageous about it. He just wanted to know which team would have 106.
“We are not the biggest guards in the country so we are going to have our hands full,” said Abrams, who at 5-foot-11, is four inches shorter than any of Memphis’ starters. “At the same time, we know what we have to do, how to read the screens. We’ll be fine.”