Friday, March 20, 2009

Ride Sallie Ride: Memphis Will Go All The Way!!!

Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Roburt Sallie Made Five 3-pointers In The First Half For The Tigers Against Cal State Northridge.

Sizzling Sallie: Thanks To Record-Setting Display, Memphis Tigers Claim Opening Game

By Ron Higgins, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Thursday, March 19, 2009

KANSAS CITY -- Scott Wedman sat unobtrusively, just another tall guy stuffed in a Sprint Center seat in section 106, row 17, right in the heart of a nervous University of Memphis cheering section on Thursday afternoon.

But as U of M guard Roburt Sallie poured in a Tigers NCAA tournament- and school-record 10 3-pointers in Memphis' 81-70 West Regional first-round victory over gritty Cal State Northridge, Wedman felt he was next to Sallie swishing basket after basket.

Wedman, a deadly outside shooter for 13 NBA seasons in the 1970s and '80s, starting in Kansas City and ending with two championships with the Celtics, knew exactly how Sallie, who scored a school tournament- record 35 points, was feeling.

"He looked so relaxed on his shot," said Wedman, sitting with AutoZone Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart, who once upon a time was Wedman's attorney/agent. "Everything he shot looked like it was going in. It's unusual to see a college player get hot and stay hot like that. When you're in that kind of shooting zone, it's a sight to behold."

It certainly was for the Tigers' fans, who couldn't believe what they had witnessed for most of the game -- a lightning-quick Cal State Northridge team confusing Memphis with a zone defense, then getting on a 3-point shooting roll that helped the Matadors to a 6-point lead with 10:11 to play.

But the Tigers' veterans, including Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, carried the team down the stretch, with Anderson scoring 10 of his game-total 13 points in the final 9:15.

That sent the mass of relieved Tigers fans into the Kansas City Power and Light District next to the Sprint Center, an area filled with clubs and restaurants just like Beale Street.

It's where the U of M faithful gathered at 10 a.m. before Thursday's game, listening to the Tigers pep band and Pouncer fire up the fans, many of whom made a seven-hour drive from Memphis.

Tony and Beverly Hall of Memphis, with their John Calipari paper masks in hand, enjoyed the pep rally. But they were a bit taken aback by all of the Kansas fans in the crowd.

The KU fans bought tickets far in advance for Kansas City, hoping that the Jayhawks, who beat the Tigers in overtime for last year's national championship, would end up at the Sprint Center. Instead, KU is in the Midwest Region playing North Dakota State today in Minneapolis.

"I'm a little bit upset about the Kansas fans being here," said Tony Hall with a laugh. "But we'll get them back this year."

Tom Greaves and Billy Poston, a couple of diehard Tigers fans from Ripley who normally drive 100 miles to FedExForum for home games, didn't mind going the extra mile to follow their team to Kansas City.

Poston has followed the Tigers since their days of playing in the campus fieldhouse.

"As much as we drive, even for a home game, maybe we should get a medal," Poston joked.

Added Greaves, "Yeah, after Midnight Madness this year, we got home at 3:30 in the morning."

That's why most UofM fans, accustomed to some early tipoffs for Saturday home games, didn't mind Thursday's 11:25 a.m. start -- especially after Sallie's outside shooting allowed them to go back to the entertainment district without a sickening feeling.

"When you get to this point, you've got to be great and lucky," said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're great, and we need a little luck on our side. None of these games are easy. It doesn't matter who you play."

-- Ron Higgins: 901-529-2525

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