Tigers punch ticket to big dance

  • By Robyn Norwood Los Angeles Times
  • Sunday, March 30, 2008 9:38pm
  • SportsSports

HOUSTON — And now, please welcome the disrespected, disregarded, free-throw clanging 37-1 Memphis Tigers.

They were the No. 1-seeded team that hardly anyone seemed to think would make to the Final Four, but they are headed for a date with UCLA on Saturday in San Antonio after a dominating 85-67 victory over Texas on Sunday in the NCAA South Regional final.

The Tigers even made their free throws, sinking 30 of 36.

That’s 83.3 percent, by a team that was shooting 59.8 percent.

“Every time we huddle up at the line, we say, ‘They don’t think we can make them,’ ” guard” Chris Douglas-Roberts said. “But we’re making them. We’re making them now. So we’ll see what the next knock is.”

Don’t worry, coach John Calipari will find something.

He is playing the no-respect card hard, quite a trick when the Tigers were the No. 2-ranked team in the final Associated Press poll and lost only once, a four-point setback to then-No. 2 Tennessee.

But he is right about this: In a year when the four top-seeded teams all made it to the Final Four for the first time since the NCAA began seeding the field in 1979, Memphis was considered the flawed team.

If it wasn’t free-throw trouble that would do in the Tigers, it was supposed to be their dearth of offensively skilled players, or their relatively unchallenged tour through Conference USA.

“It just adds fuel to the fire,” said Joey Dorsey, the 6-foot-9, 265-pound senior whose job it will be to try to fend off UCLA’s Kevin Love. “It’s just another thing we put on our back, with the free throws and hearing that we can’t do it because we’re in a small conference. So we just go out there and try to prove everyone wrong.”

That’s easier to do with a player as good as Derrick Rose, the broad-shouldered freshman point guard who led the way for the Tigers with an astonishingly complete game, thoroughly outplaying Texas point guard D.J. Augustin.

Rose, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, scored 21 points and handed out nine assists while grabbing six rebounds. He made seven of 10 shots, blocked a shot, made a steal — and in 34 minutes with the ball mostly in his hands, committed only two turnovers.

“He’s a great player,” said Augustin, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore who scored 16 points on 4-of-18 shooting and had three assists. “He makes great decisions. He controls the ball. He controls the game, and he controls his team.”

Douglas-Roberts led Memphis with 25 points, and Dorsey had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

The Tigers love to lob the ball to Dorsey for momentum-building dunks, but they earn their keep with defense.

“I don’t think we’ve seen as good a defense all year as what we saw today, and there’s no doubt that Memphis deserves all the credit,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose team’s victories included ones over UCLA and Kansas.

Against Memphis, the Longhorns — a 45 percent shooting team this season — shot only 36.2 percent

If the Tigers at times have seemed as if they were riding for a fall, they have been very good lately, defeating each of their last two opponents, Michigan State and Texas, by 18 points.

They handled the Longhorns, and they did it in front of a crowd of 32,798 fans at Reliant Stadium who were clad mostly in burnt orange. Also among the crowd: former President George H.W. Bush.

“When the bracket came out, me and Chris were looking around, like, man, look at the bracket, they’re killing us,”’ Dorsey said. “We get Texas in Texas.”

They got Texas, all right.

“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 (that way.)”

The idea works for Memphis, that much seems clear.

“We always think they’re just hatin’ on Memphis, trying to lower us down,” Dorsey said.

Earlier, Calipari had reached over and turned Douglas-Roberts’ backwards baseball cap around. Rose dutifully turned his around, too.

“The reason I turned around his hat … is I get disappointed when these young people are judged by how they wear a hat,” Calipari said.

“They are judged by a tattoo. If you ask me about my team and said, ‘Who has a tattoo?’ or ‘Who doesn’t?’ you won’t believe this, but I look at their eyes. I don’t look at their body that way. …

“They are intelligent, and they are great kids. Because of our style, it’s like, ‘Well, they don’t have any organization. They just jump, run around and shoot balls.’ “

That part, they do quite well.

“Little ol’ Memphis,” Douglas-Roberts said, liking the idea when someone noted the other teams in the Final Four could be UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas, which is is the case. “That’s what it is, we’re little ol’ Memphis against those prestigious programs.

“We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

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