Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Tigers Heading For The Sweet 16 Dance...

Memphis' Tyreke Evans drives to the basket against Maryland.
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You don’t step on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask of the ’ol Lone Ranger.

And you certainly don’t tell the Memphis Tigers that they play in a “questionable” basketball conference.

The Conference USA champion Tigers, prodded by Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez’s comments on Friday that Memphis needs to “play against some good competition, and we’re pretty good,” destroyed the Terps from beginning to end in an 89-70 NCAA West Regional second-round victory Saturday afternoon.

Though the Tigers said they were more motivated for atoning their subpar first-round win over No. 15 seed Cal State Northridge, they admit Vasquez’s words subtly sparked a flame that Memphis turned into a raging bonfire.

“We heard what he (Vasquez) said and we just went out and showed him the conference we play in isn’t too bad,” said U of M freshman guard Tyreke Evans, who scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the game’s first 4:41 as the Tigers blew the door off the Terps before the first TV timeout.

Memphis (33-3), playing with a focus and fire that got the Tigers a No. 2 seed, shot 70 percent from the field in the first half, led by 20 at halftime and tried hard not to think about the 80-degree weather awaiting them at their Sweet 16 site Thursday in Glendale, Ariz.

“If we make shots, we’re going to beat people,” U of M coach John Calipari said. “If we don’t make shots, we’re a good enough defensive team where we can hang in and beat you in the end.”

Memphis made lots of shots on Saturday, shooting 58.5 percent from the field (31-of-53), including 10-of-19 threes (52.6 percent).

U of M guard Doneal Mack, who hadn’t made a shot in his last five NCAA Tournament games, hit 5-of-7 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart were huge, combining for 31 points and 19 rebounds. Robert Sallie came off the bench and scored 13, hitting 3-of-4 3s.

The Tigers’ 27th straight victory advanced them to the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight year, something only done once previously in school history. The U of M will play the winner of Sunday’s Missouri-Marquette game in the West semi on Thursday in Glendale, Ariz.

As for Vasquez, he had 18 hard-earned points on 8-of-16 shooting, only getting hot for a brief spell. He also got a technical foul in the second half.

Memphis fans, taking note of Vasquez’s comments that he thought Maryland played in a better league (the Atlantic Coast Conference), chanted “ACC, ACC” with the Tigers ahead by 20-plus points.

Afterward, Vasquez sent up the white flag of surrender.

“They proved me wrong, that’s what the sport is all about,” said Vasquez, who added he didn’t regret any of his previous comments.

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