Measured on its own, this afternoon's game at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville might qualify as a "good loss" for the Tigers. A road game on national television against the 4th-ranked team in the country. A game tied with 6:30 left to play.
In context of a season spiraling in the wrong direction, though, the loss to Louisville is another missed chance for the U of M to gain a significant victory before conference play opens in January. The Tigers have now lost two in a row and haven't beaten a ranked team since a win over Gonzaga on February 7, 2009. They'll host Lipscomb Monday night then travel to Georgetown (a team that beat them in the Maui Classic last month) on Thursday.
The first half was particularly ugly, with both teams shooting a paltry 29 percent. The Tigers missed all seven of their three-point attempts before halftime (Louisville was one for 10 in the same category) and the Cardinals took a 42-32 lead at the break thanks largely to 12 offensive rebounds.
Memphis came out strong to open the second half, though, going on a 23-13 run and tying the game at 55 on a Tarik Black put-back with 11:30 to play. When Joe Jackson converted a three-point play on the Tigers' next possession, Memphis took a 58-55 lead.
But with 10:09 to go, Black picked up his fourth foul of the game. Neither Stan Simpson nor Ferrakohn Hall — who made his Tiger debut — could contain Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (14 points, 14 rebounds). Led by Rakeem Buckles (12 points) and Russ Smith (24), the Cardinals went on an 8-0 run to pull away 78-70, then traded baskets with the Tigers over the game's final five minutes. Louisville had seven players score at least 10 points and are now 10-0 for the first time in Rick Pitino's 11 years as head coach.
Will Barton continued his stellar play with 28 points and 16 rebounds, his fourth double-double in the Tigers' nine games. Fellow sophomores Joe Jackson (22) and Chris Crawford (12) were the other Tigers in double figures on the scoreboard. Freshman Adonis Thomas got his first college start but hit only four of 10 shots for 9 points. Senior Wesley Witherspoon was again a nonfactor with nary a field goal in 12 minutes of playing time. Filling in for Black, Hall and Simpson combined to grab two rebounds in 17 minutes of action.
Memphis is now 5-4, its most impressive win coming on the road at Miami on December 6th. The Hurricanes are currently 6-4.