After his team's semifinal win Friday night, Memphis Tiger point guard Derrick Rose was asked about the key to preparing for a 10:30 am tip-off Saturday for the Conference USA tournament championship. "Eat right, and get a good night's sleep," the star freshman said. "That's what Coach is always telling me."
Quipped Memphis coach John Calipari, "If he eats Frosted Flakes and dunks on 12 guys, it's okay with me."
However Rose and his cohorts started their Saturday, it can now be called the breakfast of champions.
In what could well be the homecourt sendoff for the team's three biggest stars, the second-ranked Tigers won the 2008 C-USA championship, beating Tulsa, 77-51, at FedExForum in downtown Memphis. The title is the third consecutive for the U of M, an unmatched streak in the program's long, proud history. Now 33-1, the Tigers have matched the program record for victories in a season and now await Sunday's announcement for where they'll play -- and against whom -- in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Memphis will be one of four regional top seeds (status they've earned once before, in 2006). Memphis joins Cincinnati -- now a member of the Big East Conference -- as the only schools to win three C-USA tourney titles.
Despite the Golden Hurricane suiting up a player named Jordan and wearing number 23 (alas, it was merely sophomore center Jerome Jordan), Tulsa was a bit player in this coronation of Conference USA's kings. Calipari treated his roster like a hockey team in the first half, exchanging one entire unit for another. His starting five -- Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, Antonio Anderson, and Robert Dozier -- played the first nine minutes of the game and raced out to a 21-6 lead. The second unit -- Shawn Taggart, Andre Allen, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack, and Jeff Robinson -- entered with 10:53 to play in the half and extended the lead to 34-11 before returning to the bench six minutes later. The rest of the game was a glorified walkthrough in front of 14,071 fans and the CBS cameras.
Junior guard Antonio Anderson paced the Tigers with 19 points and was an ironic selection as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Ironic, because Anderson has played a supporting role to Rose, Douglas-Roberts, and Dorsey all season. (Rose and CDR joined Anderson on the all-tourney team, along with Tulsa's Jordan and Ben Uzoh.) However loudly the crowd chanted "one more year" after the game and during the trophy presentation, the likelihood is that Rose will enter June's NBA draft, and could well be followed by Douglas-Roberts, a junior. The senior Dorsey certainly played his last home game Saturday, and was given one more standing ovation by the crowd when he stood and waved from the bench with just under a minute to play in the game. (Dorsey had his most unique stat line on record: 8 points and no fouls.)
Memphis will dust off some shelf space for the new C-USA trophies, then essentially start its season over. Once the seeding has been done, 65 teams will enter the NCAA tournament with no wins and no losses. Exactly one of those teams will finish the three-week "dance" undefeated. Fuel for such a run will require eating right, and for breakfast,