Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Memphis Tigers vs. UCF (FEF, 6 pm)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 8:00 AM

• Central Florida enters play tonight with an even record of 11-11 (3-5 in Conference USA play). The Knights haven’t played since February 2nd, when they ended a three-game losing streak by beating East Carolina. Their other C-USA wins came at home against Rice and at Houston. UCF’s biggest win of the season came over Auburn last November. They also beat UMass to open their season (the same Minutemen that beat Memphis on December 19th).

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• The Knights have never beaten the Tigers. The closest they’ve come in seven meetings — dating back to the 1972-73 season — was a seven-point loss last season, a game the Knights were leading at halftime.

• UCF’s scoring is distributed primarily among four players averaging nearly 10 points per game: junior A.J. Tyler (10.1), sophomore Isaac Sosa (9.8), freshman Keith Clanton (9.4), and sophomore A.J. Rompza (9.1).

• Coach Kirk Speraw is in his 17th year at the helm of the Knight program. His record stands at 275-227. Speraw has the longest current tenure of any coach in Conference USA.

• Having just been named Conference USA’s Player of the Week, Wesley Witherspoon will be aiming for his third consecutive game with at least 25 points. Elliot Williams had a seven-game streak of 20 or more points earlier this season, but didn’t score 25 in any of those.

• Tonight’s game will be the Tigers’ first since senior center Pierre Henderson-Niles was dismissed from the team. Look for junior Will Coleman to start in the middle, with a suddenly important backup role to be played by sophomore Angel Garcia. Making an early return from ACL surgery, Garcia made his playing debut (in limited minutes) against Gonzaga last Saturday.

• A victory for the Tigers would be the 1,400th in the program’s history.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Memphis Tigers Dismiss Henderson-Niles

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 9:04 AM

If you’ve been a regular at FedExForum this winter, you know some of the biggest cheers heard at Tiger games are those for buckets scored by Memphis senior Pierre Henderson-Niles. A converted layup. A made free throw. The crowd ROARS in appreciation.

The sad truth, though, is that the converted baskets were applauded because there were considered rarities by those familiar with watching Henderson-Niles play.

Pierre Henderson-Niles
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Pierre Henderson-Niles

The big center was dismissed from the team Monday night with merely eight regular-season games remaining in his college career. Coach Josh Pastner released a formal statement that didn’t specify any rules violation or legal issues. Which leads one to assume this was a matter of friction over Henderson-Niles’ declining role on the team. "Moving forward, we will do all we can for Pierre as he finishes up the academic work toward completing his degree,” Pastner said in the statement. “We wish Pierre nothing but the best."

Ironically, no Tiger player benefited more from John Calipari’s departure than did Henderson-Niles. Had Calipari remained in Memphis — and brought DeMarcus Cousins with him — Henderson-Niles would have been planted on the bench, likely a third-string center who would average no more than the 12 minutes of playing time he did as a junior.
But when Calipari took his 2009 recruiting class with him to Kentucky, a slot opened up that led to the Ridgeway alum starting 16 of the Tigers’ first 23 games. Having lost nearly 70 pounds last summer — after having Calipari in his ear about weight for three years — Henderson-Niles ran the floor better, and with more stamina, than he had since childhood. (He confessed to me in November that the hardest part wasn’t losing the weight, but keeping it off.)

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Gonzaga 66, Memphis Tigers 58

Posted By on Sat, Feb 6, 2010 at 7:36 PM

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.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Memphis Tigers vs. Gonzaga (Saturday, 3pm, FEF)

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2010 at 5:00 PM

• This interregional series began during the 2005-06 season,the aim being to get two of the best programs outside the six major conferences on the same floor. A member of the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga has won at least 23 games every season since coach Mark Few took over the program for the 1999-2000 campaign. The Zags have reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 four times under Few (2000, 2001, 2006, 2009).

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• Gonzaga enters Saturday’s nationally televised matinee with a record of 18-4, its most recent victory being a drubbing of Portland Thursday night. A loss at San Francisco last Saturday ended a nine-game winning streak for the Zags. Their other three losses were all to big-conference powers: Michigan State, Wake Forest, and Duke.

• The Tigers have won all four meetings since the annual series began on December 27, 2005. That was a battle of Top 10 foes, the 4th-ranked Tigers beating the 8th-ranked Zags, 83-72. Saturday’s game will be the first in the series in which Memphis is not ranked in the Top 20. (Gonzaga enters ranked 17th in the country.) When the U of M beat Gonzaga on January 26, 2008, it was the first home game after the Tigers were elevated to number-one in the country. (Gonzaga won the very first game played with Memphis, on November 16, 1998, part of the preseason NIT that year.)

• Senior guard Matt Bouldin leads Gonzaga in scoring with 16.6 points per game, with freshman forward Elias Harris contributing 16.0. Junior guard Steven Gray is scoring at a 13.5 clip and sophomore center Robert Sacre — a seven-footer — is averaging an even 10.0. Harris leads the club in rebounding with 8.4 per game. Bouldin contributes 4.2 assists per game.

• Tiger coach Josh Pastner has looked all season for a game in which all his offensive weapons are on target. (The closest was the victory over Houston on January 23rd, when five players reached double figures.) In the big win over UAB Wednesday night, Elliot Williams and Wesley Witherspoon combined to score 54 points, but Roburt Sallie and Doneal Mack contributed a total of 15. A more even distribution of the scoring load will add to opponents’ match-up difficulties.

• Memphis is looking for a second straight win over a team in the RPI’s top 30. Gonzaga is currently ranked 29th. (The Tigers are 70th.)

• A victory Saturday would be the 1,400th in Tiger history.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Memphis Tigers 85, UAB 75

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 10:31 PM

When or if the Tigers ever land a spot in a BCS conference, here’s hoping the U of M brass finds a way to retain an annual game with UAB. It may not be Memphis-Louisville, but the Tigers and Blazers historically play games that make college basketball the spectacle it still can be. Tonight’s tilt at FedExForum is likely the best game Memphis fans will see this winter, and every bit as good as most Big East, ACC, or Pac 10 affairs.

After 31 lead changes — read that again, 31 lead changes — the Tigers pulled away over the last four minutes to give the Blazers only their fourth loss of the season (against 18 wins), and second straight in C-USA play. Memphis is now tied with UAB at 6-2 in C-USA, a game behind Tulsa and UTEP (playing Houston tonight in El Paso).

Elliot Williams in traffic
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Elliot Williams in traffic

The Tigers trailed at the half, 32-31, but enjoyed the last of 21 second-half lead changes for their 16th win of the season. (Read that again: 21 second-half lead changes.) Wesley Witherspoon led the way for Memphis with a career-high 29 points, followed by Elliot Williams with 25. (The two combined to make 15 of 23 shots from the field and 23 of 26 free throws.) Williams add seven assists in what he called the team’s biggest win of the season.

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Memphis Tigers FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 3:54 PM

I'll have more on the newest Tiger football stars-to-be in the coming days and weeks. For now, here's a link with all the up-to-date names, stats, and facts.

Memphis Tigers vs. UAB (7 pm, FEF)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 8:00 AM

• The Blazers enter tonight’s game tied atop the Conference USA standings with Tulsa and UTEP, all three with records of 6-1 in league play. UAB lost to the Miners last Saturday night in Birmingham, 74-65 in double overtime. It was only the third loss of the season for UAB (they lost at Kent State in November, and at Virginia in December). At 18-3, they should easily exceed last season’s victory total (22) and are aiming to make their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006.

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• Junior guard Elijah Millsap leads UAB in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.6). Senior forward Howard Crawford is averaging 12.2 points and junior guard Jamarr Sanders is scoring at a 10.7 clip. The Blazers’ bench will be a challenge for the Tigers. Senior big man Kenneth Cooper scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench against UTEP.

• Mike Davis is in his fourth year at the helm of the Blazer program. He enters tonight’s game with a record of 78-42 at UAB. Davis coached Indiana to the 2002 Final Four.

• Memphis and UAB have played every season since 1990-91. (The only current Tiger series running longer is with Southern Miss, since 1981-82.) Overall, Memphis holds a 28-10 edge, having won the last seven meetings. The Blazers won in Birmingham on March 2, 2006.

• The last time Memphis lost consecutive games was at the end of the 2004-05 regular season, when they dropped four in a row.

• A win could help the Tigers’ RPI ranking after the tough loss at SMU. Memphis enters the game ranked 78th, while UAB is 27th.

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