The Tigers were not supposed to win in Tulsa tonight. The Golden Hurricane was picked to win Conference USA in the preseason. They suit up two likely all-conference picks in center Jerome Jordan and guard Ben Uzoh. They hadn’t beaten Memphis in 10 games. Prime time, Saturday night, a Tiger team down to a seven-and-a-half-man rotation . . . and that’s if Angel Garcia and his knee brace can be counted as half a player.
Memphis 93, Tulsa 86.
And it’s starting to look like the 2009-10 Tigers may be merely a healthy Garcia knee away from the NCAA tournament. Playing in only his third college game as he recovers from ACL surgery, Garcia hit seven of nine shots (including a pair of treys) to score 16 points and take Tiger Nation a step closer to forgetting the dismissed player he replaced in Josh Pastner’s rotation.
This was a gutsy win, and not just for Garcia’s unexpected stat line. Burdened with the “only post player on the team” label, Will Coleman held his own against Jordan, with seven points, six rebounds, and a pair of blocks. (Jordan’s line: 19-6-5).
When Tulsa opened the second half on a 17-3 run to tie the game at 49, the game should have slipped away for the U of M. But the Tigers never fell behind by more than a point. Elliot Williams was his typical presence offensively (27 points, 13 of 15 from the free throw line). Doneal Mack dropped in a runner over Jordan. Roburt Sallie hit a clutch trey after a pair of Tulsa dunks had tightened the score to 72-66 with six minutes to play. Wesley Witherspoon contributed 10 points despite playing in foul trouble.
The victory ties Memphis with Tulsa in the C-USA loss column (2), merely one behind the front-running UTEP Miners. The Tigers will be favored in their next two games (at Tulane and home next Saturday against an SMU team that beat them on January 30th). Valuable games for Pastner to find ways to further introduce Garcia to his rotation. Meanwhile, UTEP will visit Tulsa next Saturday, so a crack may soon form in the conference leadership. Can the Tigers sneak through?
• The U of M media-relations staff does quite a job at compiling lists of streaks, stats, and stories related to the proud history of Tiger basketball. I wonder if they have a list of opposing guards who have dunked on consecutive possessions against the Tigers. Not including breakaways, mind you. We’re talking an offensive possession when a guard decides — from the backcourt — that the rim is his to bend.
Tulsa’s Ben Uzoh pulled off back-to-back dunks tonight, and I’m willing to bet you have to go back to Louisville’s Darrell Griffith or Arkansas’ Sidney Moncrief in the late Seventies before a guard treated a Memphis team like a misbehaving porch dog. That was just ugly.
• How is it that a team calling itself the Golden Hurricane has Tiger stripes on its shorts? Any explanation? Is there such a thing as Hurricane stripes?