Memphis Guards Dominate

It’s official, John Calipari can no longer play the underdog, we get no respect card with this Memphis team. Following up on last weekend’s dominance in the regionals, Memphis overmatched UCLA with its athleticism, speed, and size, advancing to Monday;s Championship Game with a 78-63 win.

The backcourt matchup, pitting a pair of NBA bound players on each team, was the key heading into the game, and proved the difference. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose combined for 53 points, along stingy, aggressive defense to dominate the UCLA tandem of Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. Douglas-Roberts got Memphis going early, finding ways to get to the basket anyway he could, mixing in a nice mid-range jumper, on his way to 13 first half points. More importantly, he got the Tigers over some early jitters single-handedly responding to UCLA’s 5-0 start.

Memphis took advantage of the diminutive Collison all evening. At 6′, 160 pounds he is too short to guard the 6’7″ Douglas-Roberts, and not strong enough to handle the freshman star Rose, one of the few guards in the country who can match Collison’s speed. WIth no choice but to use Collison on Rose, Westbrook, a noted defensive stopper, drew Douglas-Roberts, but CDR used his height advantage to easily shoot over Westbrook, and his strength to create space and get in the lane. At the point, Rose had his way with Collison, and anyone UCLA threw at him, driving into the lane with ease, finishing strong and creating easy opportunities for his teammates.

Not known for scoring, UCLA relies on Collison, Westbrook, and its own freshman sensation Kevin Love to create the offense. But Ben Howland’s crew met their match with the aggressive Memphis backcourt and rugged inside game. Rose bottled up Collison, holding the junior to a season-low 2 points on 1-9 shooting and matching a season-worst 5 turnovers – UCLA lost Collison’s other 5 turnover game – before fouling out. Westbrook held the Bruins together offensively with 22 points, but added 3 turnovers, UCLA had 12 as a team, contributing to decisive 14-2 fast break points advantage for Memphis, an area UCLA excelled defensively all season.

Hold your questions on the Tiger foul shooting, 20-23 should quiet the peanut gallery. In fact, analyzing the box score Memphis won the game on the free throw line, converting nine more than UCLA on 10 additional attempts. That discrepancy goes right back to the guards. Rose and Douglas-Roberts took all 23 Memphis free throws, nobody on UCLA had more than 4, further evidence UCLA had no answer for the dynamic duo in the backcourt.

UCLA needed a big performance from the All-American Love, instead the rugged Tiger forwards bottled up his inside game, limiting him to two second half points, finishing with 12 for the game. After establishing Love on the post early in the game, UCLA went away from him for an extended period of time. The uptempo flow of the game, and the physical play of Joey Dorsey, who battled Love hard inside for every rebound, sapped Love’s energy. In the second half, Love didn’t have the legs for his vintage jumper off the pick and pop that he canned in many recent UCLA comebacks. By controlling tempo and using Dorsey as a defensive weapon, Calipari took Love completely out of the game, and allowed his guards to shine.

Howland found a way to slow down Memphis midway in the second half, coincidentally when Collison’s foul trouble forced him out of the game. Mbah a Moute played solid defense on Douglas-Roberts, freeing Westbrook to play Rose. Forced to find contributions from other players, Memphis missed on six straight possessions, but UCLA could not answer. After two three pointers in the opening minutes, it looked like Josh Shipp had regained his confidence, but he only managed three points the rest of the game, missing  critical shots during  the Tiger drought. Love missed his share of jumpers, never getting the touches in the lane he’s accustomed to. UCLA missed its small window of opportunity.

Memphis is hot and they have a big-time player, who picked a good time to show his best. John Calipari called his squad a “Dream Team” after the game. It may not be the ’92 Olympics, but the Tigers blowing out formidable opponents in a similar fashion. One more to go.

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