4-05-08 -- As hard as it is to imagine, Memphis keeps getting better just when it matters the most.
The Tigers claimed their piece of history Saturday, beating UCLA 78-63 in the NCAA men’s semifinals to become at 38-1 the winningest team ever in a single season. Now they have a chance to do what the other 37-win teams—Duke, Illinois and UNLV—couldn’t do: cap it off with a national championship.
With Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts taking turns at basketball acrobatics, it’s certainly imaginable. And the Bruins certainly wouldn’t doubt it.
“Going into the game, we knew that we was going to win. Ain’t too much to say,” Rose said. “We’re just a great team. With the team that we have, it’s hard beating us.”
Coach John Calipari claimed his Tigers weren’t aware they had set a record for most wins in major college basketball.
“My team’s like, ‘Is it? That’s the most wins?”’ Calipari said. “And then I told them, ‘No, no. You’ve got to get to 39 to have the most wins.’ Hopefully we’ll have one more in us.”
The Tigers will get their chance Monday night against Kansas, which beat North Carolina 84-66.
All season, this Memphis team from lightly regarded Conference USA played along with Calipari’s us-against-the-world theme. Now, the Tigers need only one more victory for their first championship.
UCLA star Kevin Love put on his own show at practice Friday, hitting a full-court shot. He managed just 12 points—and missed both open 3-pointers— as the Bruins (35-4) again fell short in their third straight Final Four appearance.
“As disappointing as this loss is, it’s hard to be here three years in a row and not come away with a championship,” coach Ben Howland said.
“You have to give credit to Memphis State,” he said. “There’s a reason why they’ve only lost one game and they’ve won 38. They’re a very, very good team.”
Rose and Douglas-Roberts, especially.
A star freshman, Rose wasn’t content to merely make shots, he wanted to stamp this Final Four as his own with a series of show-stoppers that became an NBA audition.
Rose put up lefty floaters and righty scoops, often changing hands in mid-air, and threw one try over his shoulder. He was in perpetual motion—once, he caught a pass in traffic, stutter-stepped just long enough to look his defender in the eye, and then sped past him for an easy but showy layup.
“Every once in a while, I go, ‘Oh my’ and I kind of sit down,” Calipari said. “And they usually come at inopportune times for the other team.”
Rose finished with 25 points and nine rebounds and a bunch of eye-opening moves that won’t show up in the final box.
Rose also hit 11 of 12 free throws. For a team supposedly vulnerable from the foul line, the Tigers did great in making 20 of 23.
He fittingly wound up with the ball in the final seconds and heaved it high. Only then did he crack the slightest of smiles.
Douglas-Roberts played like an All-American, scoring 28 points and Joey Dorsey had the most peculiar line of all—zero points, but 15 big rebounds in keeping Love out of the middle.
“It’s great, it’s great,” Douglas-Roberts said. “We all believe in each other and we expect great things to happen, so this isn’t new to us.”
Four other teams had won 37 times in a season—Illinois in 2005, UNLV in 1987 and Duke in 1999 and 1986—but all lost in the end.
Memphis has won its five games in this NCAA tournament by an average of nearly 16 points. The Tigers got off to a slower start this time, falling behind 5-0, before their suddenly chic “dribble drive motion” offense took over.
Memphis led 50-45 with 13 1/2 minutes left before pulling away. Rose made a couple of nifty passes, Dorsey came up with a monster block and later playfully popped Douglas-Roberts on the shoulder after a slam.
This was certainly no repeat of 1973, when the Tigers—then known as Memphis State—got routed 87-66 by UCLA in the title game. Bill Walton hit 21 of 22 shots and scored a record 44 points that night. But the big man has hip and back problems and wasn’t able to make it to the Alamodome. Fact is, the taller Bruins were in trouble the entire way.
The Tigers spent the whole season aiming at getting back to San Antonio. They lost to Ohio State on this same court last March in the regional final and adopted “Remember the Alamodome” as their motto this season.
In the first Final Four to feature four No. 1 seeds, Rose and Memphis cruised while Love could do little to stop them.
“At this stage, I feel like Memphis is definitely the best team we’ve played,” Love said.
The star freshmen needed no introduction. Rose and Love have played with and against each other since seventh grade, and the UCLA center reintroduced himself late in the first half, giving his old pal a hard shoulder on a solid screen.
The first half featured a series of bursts and ended with Memphis leading 38-35.
Josh Shipp ended his shooting slump with a pair of early 3s that put UCLA ahead. Memphis, which never trailed in trouncing Texas to reach the Final Four, struck back as Douglas-Roberts hit his first four shots.
Then it was time for Rose to take over.
Howland stood the whole game, occasionally bumping into an official as he called out defenses. He kept shouting “Up! Up!” at his team, trying to cut down on open looks to no avail.
The UCLA band and cheerleaders broke out their Beach Boys medley midway through the first half. Love’s uncle, Mike, is an original member of the surfin’ group and a big fan—he played a show Friday night in London and couldn’t make it to this game.
Dorsey was the only senior Memphis had on the floor. Backup guard Andre Allen was suspended this week for violating team rules, and several players wrote his No. 15 on their shoes.