Calipari Gets What He Wants

By Josh Herwitt - November 17, 2007


NEW YORK -- This was the kind of game that John Calipari wanted.

This was the kind of competition that No. 3 Memphis needed.

And after 40 minutes of hard-fought, chest-to-chest basketball, it was the kind of result that the Tigers and their head coach was ultimately looking for.

"These are the kind of games we schedule that we want to play," Calipari said after Memphis took the championship crown in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer with an 81-70 victory over UConn. "We don't want to play 'Popcorn State.' It does nothing for us."

But in playing a program that has won two national titles and five regular season Big East championships in the last 10 years, now that gets Calipari's blood flowing.

"We want to play Connecticut," he continued. "We want Connecticut to come right at us and give us their best. If we lose we learn. If we win we celebrate."

The Tigers can sure celebrate after beating a UConn team that played inspired despite falling behind big, 18-3, within the first six minutes of the game.

So inspired, in fact, that it was the Huskies who actually led at halftime, 41-40, after turning it around in the final eight minutes of the first half.

"I knew they weren't going to blow us out of the water," said UConn guard A.J. Price, who carried the Huskies with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. "We might have been a little shell-shocked playing the No. 3 team on a big stage, in a big arena, and we weren't on the same page. It was just a matter of time before we all got on the same page."

That page got shredded, however, single-handily in the second half by Chris Douglas-Roberts (CDR as Memphis fans love to call him), who poured in a career-high 33 points, including 17 after halftime, to go along with seven rebounds.

That's because after putting up 16 points before halftime on an impressive 7-of-10 shooting performance, Douglas-Roberts carried his team time and time again in the second half, taking his team on his shoulders every time the Tigers needed a basket down the stretch of Friday night's title game.

"He has an expanded game," said Price, who guarded, or at least attempted to guard, Douglas-Roberts at different points during the night. "He can make difficult shots and he had a good night tonight. It's nothing more than that."

Afterward, UConn coach Jim Calhoun was quick to give the junior guard praise during his post-game press conference, explicitly saying that if Douglas-Roberts wasn't on everyone's All-American list yet, then someone was making a serious mistake.

"He really has great ability," the Hall of Fame coach offered. "That makes them, at any particular point of the game, dangerous."

But the Tigers are so much more than just their junior leader. In fact, in four games this year, it's been superstar freshman Derrrick Rose who has garnered much of the hype and much of the attention from us media junkies.

No doubt, though, it's been for good reason, and if you happened to watch the game Friday night, you saw the serious matchup problems that Rose creates for opposing defenses.

The large UConn contingent filling the seats at Madison Square Garden certainly did.

"They are a team that can isolate you," Calhoun said of Memphis. "They have some terrific athletes. Down the stretch they had more experience, and quite frankly, better players."

For as good as Rose was in setting his own career-high with 22 points, Calipari wasn't totally pleased with the way his freshman point guard opened the game, though.

"I told him that if he takes another circus layup he is out," Calipari said. "[But] you saw that he tightened up his game in the second half and stopped messing around. He has so much room to grow. He is going to be good player, and he's pretty good right now."

He's got that right. But so is Antonio Anderson and Andre Allen and Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey and Shawn Taggart and Jeff Robinson -- the list just seems to go on and on and on.

And that certainly makes Calipari's job and life a little bit easier right now.

"We have a ways to go," he assured. "We all do. It is so early. I just want to learn about my team."

With the next four months ahead of him, Calipari will certainly learn a lot more about his team. But for now, he knows that Memphis is on the right track.

You know, that one that says, "Next Stop, San Antonio."

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 01:35 AM on November 17, 2007
Comments (1)

Comments

Great blog and great win for the Tigers. Two years ago we had the same opportunity to gain respect (against Duke in the NIT Tip-Off) but fell just short. This year we've shown so far that we can win pretty as well as ugly. Go Tigers!!!

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