Tigers running Calipari's version of dribble-drive offense to perfection Print
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Wednesday, 02 April 2008 12:12
NCAAB Headline News


 MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -The bounce pass down court to the teammate running at breakneck speed, finishing with a pullup jumper. Or the outlet pass to Joey Dorsey for a dunk so powerful it nearly brings down the backboard. There's also the pretty backcourt cut for the easy layup.
Memphis coach John Calipari jokes that the Tigers' offensive style involves rolling out the balls, no organization and letting everyone play.
But the man who surprised his mentor and friend Larry Brown by switching offenses to something devised by a junior college coach is heading to the Final Four with the perfect mix of players in the right system for his version of the dribble-drive motion offense.
Or as Calipari describes the way these Tigers are playing now, ``Princeton on steroids.''
It's a big reason why the Tigers are in only the school's third Final Four and first since 1985. Memphis (37-1) plays UCLA (35-3) on Saturday in the national semifinal in San Antonio after rolling through the South Regional where the Tigers first beat Michigan State, then Texas by 18 points each.
The Tigers are averaging 80.3 points. They are taking care of the ball, trimming their turnovers when it matters most. They have had only 33 turnovers in four NCAA tournament games, an average of 8.3. That's down from 9.7 over the past 18 games.
``The reality of it is I like my team. I believe in my team. I trust my team. I'll say it again. I've got a whip. Let's go,'' Calipari said of letting his Tigers play. ``I'm not saying it to be arrogant like I normally do. I'm speaking the truth.''
This offense didn't look like this two years ago when UCLA beat Memphis 50-45 in the Oakland Regional final when it was in its infant stage.
Calipari had picked up Vance Walberg's offense when the then-junior college coach came to one of his clinics six years ago. But the Memphis coach only started easing the Tigers into his variation when he had guard Antonio Burks on the floor through 2004.
The arrival of All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson in 2005 gave him the players, with Dorsey under the basket, to play away in an offense that spaces players out, giving the person with the ball room to dribble and drive to the basket or kick out to teammates cutting to spots for open shots.
Now a junior, Dozier said the offense was complicated when the Tigers first started learning.
``Maybe the first two weeks of practice when we had to install it was probably the worst it was there. ... You have to be at a certain spot on the court,'' he said.
Now four of Calipari's five starters have practiced so much over the past two years that they know the offense very well. Freshman point guard Derrick Rose has been a fast learner, and Douglas-Roberts said it isn't easy for opponents to learn how to stop Memphis' offense in the postseason.
``A day in advance you can't really prepare for this offense. So that's why it looks so good right now,'' Douglas-Roberts said.
Anderson said the teammates now know where someone will be when needed.
``It's easier now than it was two years ago. It's a whole lot easier, way more comfortable with the offense. It's helped us out a lot. I love it,'' he said.
Zone defenses that used to slow down the Tigers haven't worked in the NCAA tournament. Rose and his teammates have simply driven past defenders, refusing to settle for long-range jumpers.
``We like 3s, but we love to shoot layups and in-between shots, and that's what we're doing,'' Douglas-Roberts said. ``We base our whole offense on driving, so 3s just come with it. If we're making 3s, we're just that much better.''
Calipari credited his Tigers with knowing what defenses are trying to do to them these days and being more conscientious about driving to the basket. The offense is looking so good that Calipari said that even though Brown remains a basketball purist, he probably will adopt some things for himself when the veteran coach gets back into coaching.
``There are other things he would never do,'' Calipari said of Brown.
Walberg watched the Tigers' near perfect execution in Houston last weekend and will be in San Antonio this weekend. He credited Calipari with changing the offense to fit his team.
``To run that offense, it may look like you're throwing the balls out. If you don't know where they're going or how they're moving, if your inside guy doesn't read, there's so many different things. It's the little things that make you successful. If you don't do the little things in that offense, you shoot yourself in the foot,'' Walberg said.
``John has them clicking on all cylinders.''
 

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