Taking on The Tigers

John Calipari walked into a team meeting with his Memphis Tigers earlier this season needing to calm down some restless players.

With only 40 minutes per game, Calipari needed his Tigers to accept roles coming off the bench behind starters like senior Joey Dorsey and juniors Robert Dozier, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Memphis -12.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 59% of bets for this game have been placed on Memphis -12.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

These days, Calipari is praising the reserves for his top-ranked Tigers.

"Andre Allen may be the best backup point guard in the country right now. Shawn Taggart, if there's a better big man coming off the bench that's 6-11 who can score like Shawn Taggart, I've got to see the guy," Calipari said.

"Willie Kemp is the best utility guard coming off the bench who can play one, two, shoot three, defend, that there is. I don't know if anybody has more points per minute than Doneal Mack who can come in and light up a game athletically and shooting-wise. ... And you still have Jeff Robinson who's learning. They've accepted their roles."

That's why 10 Tigers average at least 10 minutes per game, and the depth will be on display Saturday when Gonzaga (15-4) visits Memphis (18-0).

Bulldogs coach Mark Few said he can't simulate the Tigers' athleticism in practice. He also respects what Calipari has built in Memphis after losing to him each of the past two seasons.

"It's one thing to get talented players, and another thing to get them to play that hard," Few said. "They have a lot of guys with immediate futures with paychecks."

Dorsey was held to only two points in Memphis' 56-41 win at Tulsa on Wednesday night - the program's first victory since moving atop the rankings Monday. But he had 19 rebounds, and Taggart had 14 points off the bench.

"There's too much depth on this team. We're really good this year," Dorsey said.

This is a key non-conference game for both teams to help boost their RPI, now that Gonzaga is in its West Coast Conference schedule and the Tigers are the lone ranked team in Conference USA. Memphis slipped from No. 1 in the RPI just behind third-ranked Tennessee, a rival visiting Feb. 23.

"Those scheduled games sprinkled throughout our league make our schedule probably tougher than most," Calipari said.

Gonzaga hosted, and lost, to Tennessee 82-72 on Dec. 29. But the Bulldogs have won six straight since then.

"Tennessee has nobody like Joey Dorsey. He's a beast," Few said.

Gonzaga has some depth itself with Matt Bouldin, Josh Heytveldt and Jeremy Pargo starting, and Austin Day and Micah Downs scoring more than 8.9 points per game off the bench.

But this will be the first game Memphis has played on its home court with the top ranking. The Tigers played two road games after becoming No. 1 during the 1982-83 season before losing that spot, and they went to Tulsa after moving atop the rankings Monday.

They know the ranking translates into a very large bullseye.

"A lot of teams are going to come at us now with desperation because we're No. 1," Dorsey said. "This is going to be one of the biggest games on their schedule now."

Bulldogs senior David Pendergraft said it will be special to play the top-ranked team in the country.

"I've played 3's and 2's and beat them both," Pendergraft said. "I've never beat a 1."

Tulsa held Memphis to its smallest winning margin since a 13-point win over then-No. 17 Arizona on Dec. 29. Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik credited familiarity with the Tigers and watching how USC slowed them with a triangle-and-two defense before losing 62-58 in overtime Dec. 4.

The Tulsa coach also talked to his good friend Few before that game and planned to talk further with the Gonzaga coach before Saturday's game.

But Few said knowing what the Tigers will bring doesn't mean his team can stop them. They came close before losing 78-77 in overtime in Seattle last season.

"It's not about the system," Few said. "The key is how talented they are and how hard they play.

"They can assert their physical prowess on anything."

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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