Posted: Mar 24, 2006 5:00 pm
Ah-HEM. Another buried article. This time in the NY Times. Go ahead. Ignore us.
Unknown No Longer, Memphis Marches On
By PETE THAMEL
Published: March 24, 2006
OAKLAND, Calif., March 23 — Heading into its Round of 16 game against Bradley, Memphis reigned as the great unknown in this N.C.A.A. tournament.
The Tigers are a collection of lanky, athletic players. Some of them — like Rodney Carney, Darius Washington Jr. and Shawne Williams — may have long careers in the N.B.A.
But after winning laughers against No. 16-seeded Oral Roberts and No. 9-seeded Bucknell in the opening two rounds and compiling a 13-1 record in the watered-down Conference USA, Memphis had not truly been tested.
And after toying with No. 13-seeded Bradley for a half Thursday night, the top-seeded Tigers (33-3) showcased their superior collection of talent in the second half to pull away to an 80-64 victory in the Oakland Regional semifinals. And they remain an untested mystery in making it to the Round of Eight for the first time since 1992.
On Saturday, they will play second-seeded U.C.L.A. for a spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Bruins rallied to beat third-seeded Gonzaga, 73-71, in Thursday's late game.
"I'm worried about my team, and I'm worried about how we're playing," Memphis Coach John Calipari said. "I respect everybody we play. They all scare me to death."
The Tigers' fans not only enjoyed this cakewalk, but they found the time to chant "L.S.U., L.S.U." at the end of fourth-seeded Louisiana State's upset victory against top-seeded Duke in the Atlanta Regional semifinals. That chant came well after Memphis' game had been settled, as Carney led the Tigers with 23 points and Washington added 18. Marcellus Sommerville scored 18 points, shooting 4 for 13, to lead Bradley, whose center, Patrick O'Bryant, finished with 14 rebounds but scored just 8 points.
"Every player they brought in was just as athletic as the last one," O'Bryant said. "I think that presented us with a lot of problems."
But these Tigers still showed signs that they could self-destruct. They shot 2 for 5 from the free-throw line in the first half, and Joey Dorsey picked up a technical foul for screaming in the face of Bradley's Lawrence Wright in the second. The Tigers also bit on virtually every Bradley pump fake, pogo-sticking into the air at the hint of a shot attempt.
The Tigers can do things athletically that most teams cannot do. And that was summed up in a fast-break sequence with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the second half. Carney missed a dunk, which was followed by a Dorsey rebound and another missed dunk. Carney simply snared that missed dunk and slammed the ball home to give the Tigers a 12-point lead.
Bradley never threatened after that. The Braves' frustrations boiled over in the final minutes, with Coach Jim Les picking up a technical foul, a sign that his team's magical spurt had run out of gas.
Bradley (22-11) entered the game as the most surprising success story in this N.C.A.A. tournament. Picked to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference in the preseason, the Braves' run marked the program's first appearance in the Round of 16 since 1955.
But Thursday night, Bradley looked overwhelmed and overmatched. The Braves fell behind by 7-0 and looked tight and tentative, shooting quickly to avoid Memphis' long-armed defenders and often coming up short.
There are numerous underdog stories of teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament that fall behind in the first few minutes and never recover. But to Bradley's credit, Les called a timeout, and the Braves settled down on offense and had the game tied with 4 minutes 33 seconds remaining in the half. And they did it with limited time from their leading scorer, Sommerville, who was saddled with two fouls and played just nine minutes in the first half.
Les said: "That was an awfully good basketball team we played. There's a reason that they're the third-ranked team in the country and the No. 1 seed. We needed to play our A game in order to win this game. We didn't play our A game."
Despite bursting out early to take the lead and then reclaiming it late in the first half, Memphis never looked smooth offensively. Nine of the Tigers' 15 first-half field goals were either dunks or layups, an indicator that their physical superiority mattered more than team play.
Bradley stayed in the game early because of O'Bryant, who grabbed 11 first-half rebounds and kept Memphis from dominating inside.
But by early in the second half, the game was no longer in doubt. The only question that lingered was when these Tigers would be tested in the 2006 postseason.
"We're going to be prepared for any team, a low or a high seed," Williams said. "I feel like every team is getting tested. We're in the Sweet 16; you better go out and play well."