It was a quiet week for the University of Memphis basketball team (3-6), but they accomplished two things: finishing final semester exams and ending a three-game losing streak. The only game of the week was by far the best game the team has played thus far, beating Arkansas State 83-60.
The Indians had beaten the Tigers last year at Jonesboro, but the game was significant for reasons other than revenge. For the first time since John Calipari became the head coach, the team seemed to play with an understanding of what the coach wants. They hustled and played hard on both ends of the floor, but they had done that in most of the previous games, even the six losses. What was different this time was the unselfish play on offense and the way the players seemed to understand their individual roles.
For once the offense did not have to rely entirely on Kelly Wise. Junior Paris London scored 15 points off the bench and freshman center Modibo Diarra contributed 12 points and 9 rebounds. The Tigers had five players in double figures -- freshman guard Scooter McFadgon scored a career-high 12 points, Wise added 13 and senior guard Marcus Moody scored 11 points in his second game back after briefly quitting the team. Memphis had 18 assists and only 13 turnovers.
There were, however, still some lingering problems. The guards seem to insist on shooting threes, despite the fact that they rarely hit them. The Tigers were 2-for-10 in three-point attempts, with guards Shyron Chatman, Moody, and McFadgon going 1 for 9. Several times during the game Calipari yelled Penetrate! Penetrate! to his guards but they usually paid him no heed. Once the coach threw himself on the bench in disgust as another errant trey left a guards hand.
One of the problems the Tigers face in almost every game is their lack of quickness on the perimeter. Even Arkansas States guard tried to take the Memphis backcourt off the dribble. Many coaches might try to combat this lack of quickness by playing a zone defense, but not Calipari. He says he wont play a zone until his players master the art of man-to-man.
If we play a zone, I want it to be part of a strategy, not because our players cannot play man-to-man defense, the coach said. --If you give them a choice, they will take the easy way out. Thats human nature.
Memphis hosts Christian Brothers University, a Division II school, on Monday, then travel to Miami to play the Hurricanes on Thursday. That might present the team with a chance for a breakout victory on the road. What better Christmas gift for the coach who has everything?