Saturday, February 27, 2010

Memphis Tigers 76, Southern Miss 69

Posted By on Sat, Feb 27, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette set a standard for inspired athletic performance this week, earning an Olympic bronze medal merely a few days after losing her mother to a heart attack. Tonight at FedExForum, Roburt Sallie took the floor with similar matters outweighing the significance of a basketball game. Only a few hours after learning his 65-year-old father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Sallie drilled five of six three-point attempts and scored 20 points for the most inspiring performance by a Tiger to date this season.

“There were some times I had tears,” Sallie said after his team’s 21st victory of the season. “Nobody really noticed, but I was out of it at times. To get that kind of news is devastating to my family. I only get to see my father about twice a year because of basketball. He seemed invincible to me; doesn’t have a gray hair on his head. He’s everything to our family. Coach [Josh Pastner] said if I don’t want to play, he understands. But I know how important this game was, for seeding in the [Conference USA] tournament.”

Will Coleman Slams Down Two
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Will Coleman Slams Down Two

“Rob called me earlier today, and said, ‘Coach, I can’t play,’” said Pastner. “I talked to his dad, and I talked to Rob throughout the day. He was extremely upset. Before the game, I brought him into my office and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can go. My mind is out of it.’ But he said, ‘If you put me in, I’ll suck it up and deal with it.’ I told him, his dad would be very proud of the character he showed tonight.”

The Tigers needed Sallie’s shooting, and a revival from Elliot Williams, who was held to four points in the first half, but scored 22 in the second, including a three-pointer that gave the Tigers an 11-point lead with 7:20 to play and allowed Memphis to coast to the final buzzer. This was Williams’ 16th 20-point game of the season, a figure matched only by Penny Hardaway, Dajuan Wagner, and Chris Douglas-Roberts over the last 19 seasons.

Southern Miss scored the first eight points of the game and led by nine 10 minutes after tip-off. Back-to-back three-pointers from Sallie and Willie Kemp, though, closed the deficit to three points, and by halftime the Tigers held a 33-32 lead. The scored was tied eight minutes into the second half before the U of M went on a 15-4 run. Wesley Witherspoon was a key contributor, hitting nine of 10 from the free-throw line. Sallie, Williams, and Witherspoon combined to score 81 percent of the Tigers’ points.

R.L. Horton led Southern Miss with 24 points, while Gary Flowers scored 13 and grabbed 13 rebounds. The victory was the U of M’s 14th straight in the series with the Golden Eagles.

The Tigers travel to Birmingham Wednesday to take on UAB in a battle of teams tied for second place in C-USA. Memphis beat the Blazers, 85-75, on February 3rd at FEF.

Memphis Tigers vs. Southern Miss (7 pm, FEF)

Posted By on Sat, Feb 27, 2010 at 8:00 AM

• The hardwood version of the Black-and-Blue Game is the longest continuous series the Tigers have played to date. Memphis and Southern Miss have met a total of 82 times (the Tigers hold a 29-23 lead) and every season since the 1982-83 campaign. The Tigers have won the last 13 contests, including a 59-57 win in Hattiesburg on January 9th.

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• Tonight’s game will be the Tigers’ third C-USA rematch of the season. (They’ve split with SMU and Houston.) The game in early January was the league opener for Memphis. Elliot Williams hit 11 of 19 shots (including three three-pointers) to lead the Tigers with 33 points, a career high for the sophomore. No other Tiger reached double figures in the scoring column. The U of M almost wasted a 15-point halftime lead, shooting only two for 14 in the second half, but held on to win. The Golden Eagles only shot 39 percent from the field and were led by Maurice Bolden with 13 points.

• Southern Miss won eight of its first nine games, but has since gone 8-10 (6-7 in league play). They have two road wins against C-USA rivals: Houston and Tulane. The Golden Eagles are led in scoring by junior forward Gary Flowers (14.8 ppg) and sophomore guard Angelo Johnson (10.0). Flowers is pulling down 7.9 rebounds per game. Southern Miss leads C-USA in scoring defense, allowing just 59.4 points per game. In their last outing, the Golden Eagles suffered a narrow loss to C-USA front-runner UTEP, 59-56.

• Elliot Williams has been held under 10 points only twice this season: January 13th against East Carolina (a Tiger win) and last Wednesday at Houston (a Tiger loss). After scoring only 8 against the Pirates, Williams came back with 32 points at Rice.

• Tonight’s affair will be the penultimate home game for Tiger seniors Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack. Senior Day will be against Tulsa on March 6th. Unlike the first three seasons of their career, the C-USA tournament will be played in Tulsa (March 10-13). There remains a chance for an early-round NIT game to be held at FedExForum.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Houston Drubs Memphis Tigers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 9:13 PM

When the Tigers and Houston played on January 23rd at FedExForum the Tigers came out like a team that had just lost its first conference game in almost four years (which they had three days earlier, to UTEP). Aubrey Coleman — the nation’s leading scorer — got his 32 points, but Memphis pulled away in the second half for a 15-point win. Five Tigers scored at least 10 points, two of them 20 (Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon). The U of M shot a blistering 62 percent that night.

Tonight in Houston? Not.

Memphis missed 10 of its first 12 shots and was down by 15 midway through the first half. Willie Kemp, Wesley Witherspoon, and Elliot Williams all missed their first three shots, and never got hot. Double-figure scoring? Two Tigers reached the mark, and no one had as many as 20 in the 92-75 loss. Wesley Witherspoon led the Tigers with 18 points. Elliot Williams had one of the worst games he’ll ever have with six points and five turnovers. Goodbye, four-game winning streak. (Could be worse. They’re not the Russian Olympic hockey team. Ouch.)

Coleman had his third straight 30-point effort against the Tigers (34), hitting 11 of 19 shots.

The victory ends an 11-game losing streak for Houston against the Tigers, and just about clinches the Conference USA regular-season title for UTEP. (The Miners beat Southern Miss tonight.) For a berth in the NCAA tournament, Memphis will have to win a fifth straight C-USA tourney.

The Tigers will host Southern Miss Saturday night. Their next objective will be staying in C-USA’s top four to secure a bye in the conference tourney, which starts two weeks from tonight in Tulsa. Memphis still has two fewer C-USA losses than Tulsa, currently in fifth place in the league. There’s a good chance that the Tiger-Tulsa game on March 6th at FEF will be for a bye.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Memphis Tigers RPI Check

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 9:05 AM

The Tigers are, at best, scratching at the door of the NCAA’s dance hall. With four regular season games left before the Conference USA tournament, Memphis (20-7) must win either C-USA’s regular-season or tournament crown to reach the Big Dance a fifth straight year.

The Tigers are currently 61st in the RPI rankings, but remember that several automatic bids will go to conference-tourney winners ranked lower than 61 in the RPI. Memphis won’t be able to climb the rankings much in their next two games, at Houston (148 in the RPI) and home against Southern Miss (111). The biggest game left on the Tigers’ schedule is at UAB on March 3rd. The Blazers are currently 31st in the RPI.

What chances does Memphis have for winning a fifth straight C-USA regular-season title? They’re growing slim. The Tigers are the equivalent of two games behind front-running UTEP, having lost to the Miners on January 20th. Should Memphis win its four remaining games, UTEP will have to lose twice for the Tigers to finish on top. The Miners play at Southern Miss Wednesday, then host Rice, visit Marshall, and host UAB. Not sure I see two upsets among those four games. UTEP’s RPI ranking: 53.

This should make for a compelling C-USA tournament, as it will essentially be an extension of the NCAAs. If the Tigers can win — and keep winning — they’ll be in. One slip, and the NIT awaits.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Memphis Tigers 76, SMU 63

Posted By on Sat, Feb 20, 2010 at 10:16 PM

The Tigers served up a frigid dish of revenge to the Mustangs tonight, thanks largely to some sizzling long-distance shooting. Memphis drained seven of 11 three-point attempts in the game’s first 12 minutes to take a 31-14 lead. With eight more triples over the course of the game, the Tigers never trailed, even with SMU going on runs of 14-0 in the first half and 11-0 in the second. The 15 treys were one shy of the single-game record for the program.

Wesley Witherspoon, Elliot Williams, and Roburt Sallie each made three of six from downtown. “Guys were just feeling it,” said Witherspoon after the game. “And they were falling, so why not?” Witherspoon finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, and six assists (with only one turnover). Williams showed no ill effects of a bruised right knee suffered last Wednesday at Tulane, scoring 16 points in 33 minutes on the floor. He said he played pain-free, and was only missing some power when he jumped.

Elliot Williams
  • Elliot Williams

After scoring 23 points with 14 rebounds three weeks ago in an SMU victory over Memphis, Mustang junior center Papa Dia was held to 10 points and 11 rebounds tonight. Like the Tigers, SMU did most of its shooting from beyond the arc, where they made 10 of 26 attempts. Derek Williams led the visitors with 18 points.

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Memphis Tigers vs. SMU (FEF, 7 pm)

Posted By on Sat, Feb 20, 2010 at 8:00 AM

• Tonight’s game will be the Tigers’ first rematch of the season. SMU beat the U of M on January 30th in Dallas, the most damaging loss of the season for the Tigers. In that game, the Tigers managed to take 14 more shots than the Mustangs and still lose, 70-60. (Memphis led by five at halftime.) The Tigers shot only 34 percent from the field, with half their attempts coming from three-point range. SMU won the game at the free-throw line, making 33 of 38 (compared with the Tigers hitting 12 of 19 from the charity stripe). Wesley Witherspoon was held to five points in 28 minutes and Will Coleman was a nonfactor (no points and four rebounds in 17 minutes of play). The Mustangs were led by Papa Dia (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Derek Williams (25 points, 14 of 15 from the line). The win was SMU’s first in eight games against the Tigers as Conference USA rivals.

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• SMU has already exceeded last season’s win total in C-USA play. The Mustangs are 5-6 entering tonight’s game, having gone 3-13 in 2008-09. Overall, Southern Methodist is 12-13, an improvement on last year’s 9-21 mark. Their biggest win to date? You guessed it: January 30th.

• A win tonight would be the Tigers’ 20th of the season, and make this the 10th straight season with at least 20 victories for the U of M. The only stretch of Tiger history that approximates this run is the eight-year period from 1981-82 to 1988-89.

• With two conference losses, the Tigers are only one game behind C-USA front-runner UTEP. (The Miners play at Tulsa this afternoon.) The goal remains to win a fifth straight C-USA regular-season title. After that, Memphis wants to protect its position among the league’s top four, which would secure a bye in next month’s conference tourney. Tulsa and Marshall are essentially tied for fourth place now, with four losses in league play.

• For the better part of three months, I’ve been wondering where the 2009-10 Tigers would be without Duke transfer (and native Memphian) Elliot Williams. We may just get an answer of sorts Saturday night, as Williams will be a game-day decision, having bruised his right knee in the win over Tulane Wednesday night. Should Williams have to sit, look for D.J. Stephens and Drew Barham to absorb his minutes. Best-case scenario would be for Williams to start, help the Tigers to a comfortable lead, and take a seat for most of the second half.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Opening Day at FedExPark!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 12:00 PM

I can’t wait to check out the Tigers’ new baseball stadium, FedExPark. (A family commitment is keeping me from today’s lid-lifter against Middle Tennessee at 4:00.) Coach Daron Schoenrock’s club will be playing in a facility that just underwent its largest redesign since opening in 1972. A new locker room, indoor practice facility, dugouts, grandstand, press box and private suite were all paid for with a $3 million contribution from FedEx (thus the name of the stadium). The outfield dimensions, it should be noted, are the same as they were at Nat Buring Stadium (379 feet to centerfield, 318 down the lines).

Tiger baseball coach Daron Schoenrock
  • Tiger baseball coach Daron Schoenrock

The Tigers are coming off a 21-32 season, one in which they were a team without a home, hosting visitors at USA Stadium (in Millington), Gagliano Stadium, and AutoZone Park. A pair of sophomores are worth watching this season. Outfielder Drew Martinez (.309 last year) and infielder Adam McClain (.288) were each named to Conference USA’s All-Freshman team for 2009.

The Tigers will host MTSU again Saturday (2 pm) and Sunday (1 pm).

Coach Porter in Sporting News

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 8:00 AM

There’s a terrific story in the February 15th issue of the Sporting News on the hiring of six new black coaches at college football’s highest level. Larry Porter is among the subjects, of course, and answers some questions that should inspire Tiger fans.

An example:

SN: When was the first time you felt like “a head coaching candidate?”

Porter: About three or four years ago, people started telling me, “One day you’re going to be a head coach,” and I kept hearing that. And I’m like, “Yeah, they’re not exactly giving them away.” That’s like winning championships: It’s a lot easier said than done. As time went on, I heard it more and more. I started to hear it from people I really respected in this business — that’s when I started to believe it.

The issue’s worth a trip to the newsstand. (Even with Roy Halladay on the cover.)

Coach Porter in Sporting News

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 8:00 AM

There’s a terrific story in the February 15th issue of the Sporting News on the hiring of six new black coaches at college football’s highest level. Larry Porter is among the subjects, of course, and answers some questions that should inspire Tiger fans.

An example:

SN: When was the first time you felt like “a head coaching candidate?”

Porter: About three or four years ago, people started telling me, “One day you’re going to be a head coach,” and I kept hearing that. And I’m like, “Yeah, they’re not exactly giving them away.” That’s like winning championships: It’s a lot easier said than done. As time went on, I heard it more and more. I started to hear it from people I really respected in this business — that’s when I started to believe it.

The issue’s worth a trip to the newsstand. (Even with Roy Halladay on the cover.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Game, Set, Match: Tigers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2010 at 10:25 PM

You gotta forgive me for playing hooky on the Tigers tonight. Just got back from The Racquet Club, where I saw the best match I've seen in years. Andy Roddick over James Blake: 6-3, 4-6, 7-6. Won't be a better match here all week. A shame the two best American players since Sampras and Agassi have to face each other in the first round. The unseeded Blake played with a wrapped right knee, but was still mobile enough to take the 7th-ranked (and top-seeded) Roddick to a third-set tiebreaker.

The Tigers held serve, though, in beating Tulane, 77-64, for their third straight win. A credit to Josh Pastner in his first season at the helm: his team wins the games it should. The only loss this season where the Tigers played down to their opponent was at SMU on January 30th. And they'll get a chance to right that wrong Saturday at FedExForum.

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Great to see Roburt Sallie finally break out: four of seven from three-point country and 17 points. It simply hasn't been the season Sallie — or Tiger fans — expected from the junior who starred in last year's NCAA tournament. A long-distance marksman can erase deficiencies at either end of the floor for a basketball team, and Memphis has not had that consistent threat.

Wesley Witherspoon was again a factor, after getting in foul trouble during the big win over Tulsa last Saturday. Sixteen points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes is about the line the Tigers need from Witherspoon if they're to do damage in the C-USA tournament next month. Will Coleman's 13 points and seven rebounds earn him a passing grade tonight, as well. Nice to win a game on the road by 13 when your top scorer (Elliot Williams) is held to a dozen points.

Had to satisfy my tennis Jones tonight, but I'll be courtside — at FedExForum — Saturday night for the rematch with the Mustangs. And back here with a postgame report, whether or not the Tigers earn their 20th victory of the season.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dana Kirk (1935-2010)

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2010 at 9:54 PM

I learned the sad news of Dana Kirk's death tonight at the stadium court at The Racquet Club of Memphis. No major announcement, mind you. Just the passing along of significant news among fellow Memphians, fellow sports fans. (Early reports indicate Kirk died of a heart attack.)

Having moved to Memphis in 1991, I never got to meet Kirk, certainly never witnessed a Kirk-coached team bludgeoning some unfortunate Metro Conference rival at the Mid-South Coliseum. But I'll give you some perspective on Kirk's impact on the Tiger program.

Dana Kirk and Keith Lee
  • Dana Kirk and Keith Lee

I spent my high school days in a tiny hamlet in central Vermont. This was well before the Internet, of course, and was even before ESPN on the 13-channel cable system my town was fed. My buddies and I played basketball during the winter, though, and we learned the game from what the national media brought us via magazines, newspapers, and network television. Among those buddies were born-and-bred Vermonters who might — emphasis, might — be able to tell you Elvis Presley was from Memphis. They certainly wouldn't have known the name Fred Smith, or that such a Memphian had merely changed the business world.

But every last one of my running buddies knew the name Dana Kirk. They knew Dean Smith coached North Carolina. They knew Bobby Knight coached Indiana. And they knew Dana Kirk coached the Memphis State Tigers.

Keith Lee — Kirk's most famous and most expensive recruit — was in the rarefied air of Jordan, Ewing, and Olajuwon in the mid-Eighties. And that was nationally. Kirk's finest team — the 31-4 squad of 1984-85 — did college basketball a favor by breaking a Big East stranglehold on the 1985 Final Four, only to fall to Cinderella in a Villanova uniform.

Those Tigers — Kirk's Tigers — were part of the national conversation, even in hockey country. We all know there are bruises on Kirk's legacy, that the team picture from 1984-85 has its share of sad endings, starting with that of Baskerville Holmes. But Lee and Holmes, Andre Turner and William Bedford, Vincent Askew and Dwight Boyd . . . these were names that stretched the conversation about Tiger basketball well beyond the Mid-South, a phenomenon that has survived without interruption for a quarter century now. (The 1973 Tigers were ground-breakers, an unforgettable team. But the program had been all but forgotten in the eastern time zone until Lee arrived in 1981.)

Dana Kirk won 158 games as Tiger coach, fourth in the program's history. He made some mistakes along the way. But he took Tiger basketball nationwide. Tonight, at least, that's how I'll remember him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Memphis Tigers Win at Tulsa

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 8:29 PM

The Tigers were not supposed to win in Tulsa tonight. The Golden Hurricane was picked to win Conference USA in the preseason. They suit up two likely all-conference picks in center Jerome Jordan and guard Ben Uzoh. They hadn’t beaten Memphis in 10 games. Prime time, Saturday night, a Tiger team down to a seven-and-a-half-man rotation . . . and that’s if Angel Garcia and his knee brace can be counted as half a player.

Memphis 93, Tulsa 86.

And it’s starting to look like the 2009-10 Tigers may be merely a healthy Garcia knee away from the NCAA tournament. Playing in only his third college game as he recovers from ACL surgery, Garcia hit seven of nine shots (including a pair of treys) to score 16 points and take Tiger Nation a step closer to forgetting the dismissed player he replaced in Josh Pastner’s rotation.

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This was a gutsy win, and not just for Garcia’s unexpected stat line. Burdened with the “only post player on the team” label, Will Coleman held his own against Jordan, with seven points, six rebounds, and a pair of blocks. (Jordan’s line: 19-6-5).

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TIGER BLUE SURVEY: Big Orange vs. Coach Cal

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 8:00 AM

How many Tiger fans will be watching tonight's game between Tennessee (18-5) and Kentucky (23-1)?

I'm curious: which program is the lesser of evils?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tiger Football Signees: Be Patient

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 8:00 AM

I’ve had nine days to get excited about Larry Porter’s first recruiting class and — nothing against Coach Porter — I’m not there. I haven’t seen any of the signees play, mind you, beyond the clips most of you have seen. And measuring a football player’s college potential on a high-school gridiron is far more art than science. I’m not going to try and take any scout’s job here today. Rivals.com ranks the class 60th in the country.

The fact is, a football recruiting class requires a kind of simmering that most other college athletes don’t. Tiger basketball fans are already counting the points Will Barton will score as a freshman next season at FedExForum. But shall we try and guess the number of yards Andy Summerlin or Ryan Williams passes for this fall? (The most intelligent guess would be zero.)

Sean Farr: the next Duke Calhoun?
  • Sean Farr: the next Duke Calhoun?

Among the 15 players Tommy West signed in February 2006, exactly three of them exhausted their eligibility in four years and played their senior season last fall: Duke Calhoun, Matt Reagan, and Josh Weaver. Eight others have been redshirted and will be on the field in 2010 (including linebacker Winston Bowens and offensive lineman Dominik Riley). Four of those 2006 recruits are no longer with the team.

The skill positions are where jewels are found, and Porter has signed five wide receivers, two running backs, and two players classified as “athletes.” Will Reggie Travis or Bakari Trotter be on the receiving end of touchdown passes from Summerlin or Williams? If so, it will likely be around 2012, when they’d only be redshirt sophomores. The lone four-star recruit in the class — Sean Farr of Baltimore City, Maryland — should be in the mix from the get-go. Same for tight end Justin Henderson from North Little Rock.

The defensive side of the ball is where Porter will distinguish himself in the coming years, as Tommy West’s last two teams were lacking in the only two variables that matter in stopping an offense: strength and speed. If I have a concern with this year’s class, it’s that there aren’t enough linebackers (three). Speedy defensive backs can prevent a big play, and pass-rushing linemen can make a big play behind the line of scrimmage. But over the course of a football game (or season), it’s linebacker play that will determine the winner. Their impact is “big picture,” if you will. Pay attention to Khiry Battle, Alphonso Bruton, and Fred Harvey. If they earn playing time as freshmen, it could earn a passing grade for Larry Porter’s inaugural class of recruits.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Memphis Tigers 76, UCF 70

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 9:39 PM

“We were poor defensively tonight. Worst game we’ve played defensively all year long. We didn’t get stops. Will Coleman struggled. We couldn’t get stops whether it was man or zone, and we tried both.”

Coach Josh Pastner didn’t pull punches in evaluating his club’s win tonight, an affair much closer than he’d like at home against a UCF club limping along at 3-5 in C-USA play. In the first game since the dismissal of senior center Pierre Henderson-Niles, Pastner’s imprint was evident from the beginning. Freshman shooting specialist Drew Barham started, having played a total of 66 minutes in the team’s first 23 games. (Elliot Williams had played 76 minutes in the last two games.) Barham and fellow freshman D.J. Stephens combined to play 27 minutes to eat up the vacancy in the rotation. Stephens brought his usual energy boost and contributed seven rebounds in 17 minutes on the floor.

Willie Kemp
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Willie Kemp

Behind for much of the first half, the Tigers took the lead just before the break on a three-pointer from Roburt Sallie in the right corner. The combination of UCF accuracy (the Knights shot 57 percent in the first half) and the return to earth of Wesley Witherspoon (he missed six of seven shots in the first half after scoring a total of 55 points in the Tigers’ last two games) had the visitors in position to win their first game in eight tries against Memphis.

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