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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Tigers take winning streaks, balanced lineup into duel”

    It’s been 29 games since the Memphis men’s basketball team lost a regular season contest, which happened to come the last time it faced Arizona.

    It’s been even longer since the Tigers lost in FedEx Forum, a whopping 37 games, making it the second-longest streak in the nation.

    Then if UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill pops in the tape of the Tigers’ nearly flawless last 25 minutes of basketball Dec. 22 when they outscored then-No. 5 Georgetown by 22 points to win going away, it’s no secret why he said many things concern him about the Tigers.

    “”They’re the No. 2 team in the country and you’re playing at their place to begin with,”” he said. “”It’s a lot different if you’re neutral floor or at our place or something like that. They’ve won 37 in a row, and they’re big, strong, athletic, deep. There’s not a lot of weaknesses in their team.””

    In beating the Hoyas, 85-71, Memphis head coach John Calipari stuck mainly with five players who he said played “”unbelievable”” defense in the rout of the Hoyas, who run a principled Princeton offense.

    But he sees a completely different challenge ahead of his team when No. 17 Arizona rolls into town.

    “”The reality is we know how we defended Georgetown is going to be different than Arizona,”” he said. “”Georgetown has a system of play, an offense that scored. Arizona has players that score. This is a difficult challenge for us. They’re No. 1 in the RPI, which tells you they are for real. Everyone’s talking about our schedule, but I’m saying, ‘Look at their schedule.’ This is going to be a hard one for us.””

    O’Neill, meanwhile, could care less about RPIs – where Memphis ranks second to set up a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown – but he does care about how to stop a Tiger offense that sends scorers out in droves.

    Eight players average at least 6.8 points per game for Memphis, whereas the Wildcats’ top-heavy attack features only half that many players at that average, with O’Neill often not even giving eight players consistent minutes.

    After guard Chris Douglas-Roberts (17.4 points per game) and super freshman guard Derrick Rose (15.9) no other Tiger sits in double figures, but six other players consistently pitch in.

    “”Really we’ve had a bunch of different guys lead us in scoring,”” Calipari said. “”We’ve got eight or nine guys that could lead us in scoring. Their unselfishness, that they do like each other is a big part of what we are.””

    That unselfishness also translates on the defensive end, where the Tigers hold opponents to 39.0 percent shooting and force 18.4 turnovers per game, leading to offense in bunches at the other end.

    That’s what happened in last week’s showdown against Georgetown. The defense fueled a 16-5 run at the end of the first half and then a 29-12 second-half spurt that included a 9-0 run and a 16-6 run.

    “”They’re kind of a run team, so they get on runs,”” O’Neill said. “”We’ve got to weather their runs and try to cut their runs down by taking care of the ball and getting good shots and making them work on defense all the time.””

    If Memphis goes on a tear, the Wildcats possess much experience coming back. They endured runs against No. 14 Texas A&M, Illinois and Nevada-Las Vegas in victories and bounced back before eventually falling against No. 3 Kansas and Virginia in playing the No. 2 toughest schedule in the nation.

    Although Memphis has not played as many quality teams, the Tigers have also challenged themselves during the nonconference season while playing teams with different styles. Memphis has already had to play a slow team in Georgetown, a fast team in Connecticut as well as a USC squad that threw a few junk defenses at them.

    “”The reason we play this kind of schedule is the fact that they’re teams we know we’ll end up having to face in March, and this is one of those teams,”” Calipari said of the Wildcats. “”When you have players who can get their own shots and break down a defense, we’ve got to see how we respond to that.””

    That kind of learning experience helped Memphis in last year’s 79-71 Arizona win in Tucson, the game after which the Tigers have not lost in the regular season.

    In fact UA head coach Lute Olson joked with Calipari at the NCAA Tournament that his squad did Memphis a favor by winning that game, in which former UA point guard Mustafa Shakur burned Memphis for a game-high 23 points, because of the Tigers’ streak after it.

    “”What did that game do for us?”” Calipari asked. “”It taught us where we were and gave us a lesson for the NCAA Tournament. The lesson was with if we play a good big guard, we better put somebody else on him.””

    That game as well as Arizona’s early-season success have made the Tigers respect the Wildcats in what will be one of their few remaining tests of the regular season with a weak Conference USA schedule on tap.

    “”Arizona has a great team with a lot of outstanding players,”” Douglas-Roberts said. “”We know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us on Saturday. They have played well this season, and we know we are going to have a fight on our hands.””

    Added guard Antonio Anderson: “”We will have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, we’ll come and play with the same intensity as we did last week, and hopefully we’ll have the same result.

    “”But this is going to be a tough game.””

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