I took my family to this afternoon’s game, my daughters’ first in two years. (Now and then, you gotta leave the notebook and recorder at home.) Among the questions I heard today that I never do on press row: “Why are all those people reading newspapers?” (It was during the pregame introduction of the Gonzaga starting lineup.) “How many of these [foil strands] are on my pom-pom?”
Reminded me what’s important, even on game day.
The Tigers had a chance to pull the upset today, and played with the energy you’d expect from a team that smells a surprise for their home crowd and a national-television audience. They were on top 14 minutes into the game, though after shooting from both sides that would make only a mother proud (the score was 15-13 with six minutes to play before halftime). And despite falling behind for the next twenty minutes of play, Memphis grabbed the lead (on a goaltending call against the Zags’ gigantic Will Foster), 53-51, with under five left on the clock.
Some missed free throws down the stretch, though, closed the deal. (The Tigers missed 12 of 26 from the line.) Matt Bouldin led the visitors with 19 points while Wesley Witherspoon had his second straight exceptional game on offense, with 26. Elliot Williams, though, was held to 11, and no other Tiger reached double figures.
• I was struck by the crowd roar on two occasions incidental to game action. When sophomore Angel Garcia made his long-delayed debut four minutes into the game, the crowd acted as though Keith Lee had returned for one more battle. It was actually pretty touching, and reveals much about just how engaged Tiger Nation is in its squad. Had Garcia drained the three-point attempt he let fly shortly after breaking a sweat, the place may have cracked in two.
Then with just under eight minutes to play in the game, the Tigers down by seven, coach Josh Pastner finally lost his cool. (At least on a Pastner scale.) After a series of borderline calls went against his team (primarily of the offensive foul variety), Pastner took several steps toward each of the three officials, each time intercepted by a player or assistant coach. When he raised both arms in exasperation, his adoring throng of 17,000 let loose with empathy. Again, touching to see a home crowd ready and willing to share fury with its fearless, if outmanned, leader.
• The loss all but rubber-stamped the Tigers for the NIT. It was the last chance for Memphis to grab a meaningful nonconference victory. Barring at least a regular-season C-USA championship, the only way this team makes the Big Dance is by winning the league tournament at season’s end.
The Tigers next host UCF on Wednesday night.