NCAA South Regionals: Tigers’ performances puts an end to doubts
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The Memphis Tigers have dominated opponents all season, but it wasn’t enough to keep the critics from labeling them as the No. 1 seed most vulnerable to suffer an upset in the NCAA Tournament.
When the Tigers played in the supposedly weak Conference USA, couldn’t hit free throws in the clutch and played a style of basketball that didn’t seem good enough to the status quo. Critics said junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, senior forward Joey Dorsey and freshman point guard Derrick Rose would eventually fall short of a national title.
The Tigers got an 85-67 win over No. 2 seed Texas in the South Regional final, co-hosted by UH and Rice, on Sunday before a crowd of 32,798 at Reliant Stadium. Memphis advances to the Final Four in San Antonio, where the Tigers will face West Regional champion UCLA on Saturday. The winner advances to face the winner of the North Carolina-Kansas semifinal in the national championship game on April 7. It marks the Tigers’ third-ever Final Four appearance, and their first since 1985.
"This is a big deal," sophomore forward Shawn Taggart said. "We always said in the summertime before we even started school we wanted to get to the Final Four, we wanted to make a statement and we wanted to win the whole thing, and now we are on the road to do that."
With Douglas-Roberts, Dorsey and Rose setting the tempo, the Tigers (37-1) got a hot start and never trailed. Douglas-Roberts finished with a game-high 25 points, Rose poured in 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Dorsey recorded his tenth double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
"I believe in these guys, I trust them," Memphis head coach John Calipari said. "And I’m just so proud of these guys. They are just performing and they want this (national championship), but it’s not going to stamp anything about this season."
After trailing by 17 points in the first half, Texas battled back with a 6-0 run over the final 2 minutes, 47 seconds of the period to pull within 39-28 at halftime. The Longhorns (31-7) kept the run going by scoring the first six points of the second half to pull within 39-34 with 18:18 left.
Memphis, however, would quickly squelch that fire. Taggart knocked down a jumper to push the lead back to seven, and Rose, who slashed through the Longhorns’ defense at will for much of the afternoon, followed with a dunk on the Tigers’ next possession.
Rose’s slam initiated a 20-9 run that gave Memphis a commanding 61-43 lead with 6:49 remaining.
"He’s obviously outstanding in transition," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said of Rose, who was named the South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. "He just slips around and comes at you so hard, and then he comes around the rim and can just elevate and get over. He just doesn’t seem to get rattled."
Texas sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin, struggled with his shots, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-18 shooting. Texas junior guard A.J. Abrams finished with 17 points, but 12 of those came in the final 2:57, after the game had been decided.
In the end, the day belonged to the Tigers. They may not have silenced all the critics, but they proved they were one of the four best teams in the nation.
"I’m not sure if we’ll get the respect we deserve, but if we don’t, it doesn’t matter," Douglas-Roberts said. "It’s four teams left now. I don’t see a reason why people could still doubt us, but I’m pretty sure that it is."