Until another American Athletic Conference team wins a national championship, the UConn Huskies are the young league's standard bearers. Having won four national titles since 1999, Connecticut entered Thursday's game at FedExForum beaten up both by injuries and by the opposition (5-8 record). The Huskies managed to take an early five-point lead, but then reverted to form for their fourth consecutive loss. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson
picked up his 12th double-double of the season (15 points and 11 rebounds) and junior guard Markel Crawford
contributed 19 points as the Tigers improved to 11-4 for the season and evened their AAC mark at 1-1.
"The defensive effort was outstanding," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith. "And it had to be, because [UConn] dominated the boards. I don't think I've had a team that lost by 21 on the boards [49-28] and still won. We took care of the basketball the right way." The Tigers contributed only four turnovers while handing out 18 assists on 29 field goals. They held UConn to 38 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers.
"We wanted to push the ball [offensively] and extend our defense," added Smith. "We scored 19 fast-break points. Even though they had size, we wanted to attack inside. They backed off and tried to make us beat them with the three . . . and we tried. But that's not our game. We got back to passing the ball, sharing it the right way."
Crawford hit a three-pointer to put Memphis up 10 (30-20) late in the first half, then converted a pair of field-goal attempts to open the second half. A trey by reserve guard Craig Randall
gave the Tigers a 14-point cushion (42-28) just over three minutes into the second half and the Huskies never again closed within five points.
While UConn's having a down year by its lofty standards, the Tiger players consider the win a significant step toward their team's ultimate goal. "It's satisfying," said Dedric Lawson. "They've been a powerhouse program in the past. We came through. No matter who their players are, it's still UConn."
scored 16 points despite being limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble in his fourth start since Chad Rykhoek's ankle injury. The Tiger bench was again extremely short, with only Randall (21 minutes) and Keon Clergeot (5) seeing action on the floor.
Center Amida Brimah led Connecticut with 15 points and 10 rebounds. No other Husky scored as many as 10 points.
"We want to protect home court," said Crawford. "We don't want to get up 20 and get lackadaisical. We did a good job of keeping the pressure on."
"We're not the biggest team," added Lawson, "but we fight, and we get into the paint." The younger of the two Tiger Lawson brothers now has 29 double-doubles in his two-year career. Two more will tie him with Lorenzen Wright for eighth in Memphis history.
The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, first Sunday at Tulane, then on January 11th at Tulsa.