The tune-up is underway. Taking the floor for the first time since John Calipari, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey swept Conference USA's Coach, Player, and Defensive Player of the Year honors, respectively, the second-ranked Memphis Tigers whipped the Tulane Green Wave, 75-56, in the quarterfinals of the C-USA tournament at FedExForum.
Now 31-1, and with sights firmly on a top seed for the NCAA tournament, the Tigers held serve in what could be a three-day romp to a third successive tourney championship on their home floor. (The U of M's cause was boosted by Tulsa's upset of UAB in Thursday's first game. Then UTEP knocked off the third-seeded Houston Cougars. I counted eight stacks of UAB media guides in the press lounge. Hello, recycle bin.)
Chris Douglas-Roberts led the Tigers with 17 points, while Robert Dozier added 14 points and 9 rebounds in what Tiger fans hope is an emergence from a two-month scoring slump for the junior power forward. Dozier had reached 10 points in only four of his last 15 games.
"The reason we made a run [to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight] last year was because of Robert," said Calipari after the game. "He just stepped up and became a monster. I told him at one point, just score every time you can score. He was terrific."
Memphis opened some eyes with its foul shooting, making 71 percent from the line (after shooting 59 percent for the regular season). And the Tigers once again dominated on the boards, winning the rebound battle, 43-28.
"The biggest thing today," added Calipari, "is i wanted to see how many guys we could play, and we subbed 10 or 11 guys in the first half." One asset that Calipari did not have was reserve point guard Andre Allen, who sat out with an injured ankle. The coach indicated Allen could play as early as Friday, but will certainly be ready for the opening game of the NCAA tournament next Thursday or Friday.
Among the most inspirational/surreal/bizarre moments of the season came with just under six minutes to play in the first half when the crowd awarded the Tigers' Joey Dorsey with a standing ovation ... for making two free throws. A more well-earned seat-lifter came two minutes later when Douglas-Roberts rejected a breakaway dunk attempt by Tulane's Donnavan Stith.
Calipari, with a cheek-splitting grin, made special note during his post-game comments of Dorsey's free-throw shooting. "Four of six," he emphasized. "Thats a big night."
Memphis will face the winner of Thursday night's UCF-Southern Miss game in the first semifinal contest Friday (tip-off at 3:30 pm). The Tigers beat the Knights by 21 at home on February 9th and beat the Golden Eagles twice this season (by 36 at home and 9 in Hattiesburg).