Since my last post, the BRUINS won an impossible game from Gonzaga! Down 17 points in the first half, and 9 points with under 3:30 to go, they benefitted from tyhe Zags missing 11 shots in a row, a beautiful steal and conversion and their first lead of the game. Then a tie up and Bruin ball and the failure of a desperation Zag shot, and Adam Morrison, the great Zag forward, collapsing in a heap on the hardwood, and later saying.... "....I just like to win." Yeah! We BRUINS understand that! So do we! It was real tough defense, never giving up and never believing they couldn't do it. Well, I know reality, and no matter how hard you play when you're down the way they were, you need help. The BRUINS not only wanted it more than the Zags, but they kept an aggressive attitude that refused to be denied. This is not the way to prevail in a tournament that is one loss and home you go.
So, I was absolutely thrilled. And absolutely convinced that a high octane offense combined with athleticism and demonstrated dominance of the Bruins in the pre-season NIT at Madison Square Garden (88-80) meant that the Memphis Tigers couldn't be denied.... even with determination. The Memphis Commercial Appeal headlined its pregame story, "Out of the way, UCLA" I was soaking up and copying as many pre-game stories as I could from the internet knowing that I would be in the air en route from Kona to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana when the game was taking place. I don't know who was favored.... well, it had to be Memphis, but I don't know by how many points.... I would guess 8 would be a fair number.... at least 6. They were awfully confident in Memphis. Quoting Mark Weber/Gary Parrish of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, pre-game in an article that follows:
Shawne Williams will tell you this with great pride when he talks about the first time he wore a University of Memphis jersey. He didn't have money to buy his own. The NCAA frowns upon amateurs accepting gifts. So as a teenager, Williams' only way of getting a UofM jersey was to scrounge around and make the best of what he could find. But he knew where to look.
"They would always throw out the old practice jerseys, and so I saw one in the dumpster and took it," Williams said. "It was in the garbage, but it wasn't garbage." The number: Double zero. The color: Reversible blue and white.
Shawne Williams remembers that jersey still, and he wore it all the time. But now he's a little older, has his own jersey with his own name on the back. And when the South Memphis product puts it on today and takes the court at 6:05 CST he'll be only a victory over UCLA away from leading the Tigers -- his beloved Tigers -- to the Final Four for just the third time in their history.
Take a moment to let that set in. Williams needs a moment, too.
"Sometimes I can't believe it, that I'm playing for Memphis," he said. "But I know we're going to be a team people in Memphis talk about for 20 or 30 years if we can do this." So can they do this?
They already did it, actually, last Nov. 23, to be exact. That's when the Oakland Regional's top-seeded Tigers (33-3) and second-seeded Bruins (30-6) met in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-off, and Memphis cruised to an 88-80 win that was a blowout in every way other than the final margin of victory.
The Tigers led 51-34 at halftime, and Williams had 20 of those points. He finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, and the only thing that made the second half even remotely interesting was Jordan Farmar shooting UCLA back to single-digits by scoring most of his game-high 28 points.
"(The final score was) not indicative of the game," said UCLA coach Ben Howland. "They crushed us. They had us down (17) at the half. I was watching (film of) that game this morning, and (the score) was not indicative of what the game was like. They handled us easily the first time we played.
"We've got to do a better job of getting back in transition," Howland added, "because if they score 88 points they're going to win."
Though the Tigers are capable of going for 88 -- they've hit that total 11 times this season -- it's doubtful they'll get there tonight if UCLA's recent history is any indication. Consider that no team other than Memphis has put 80 points on UCLA, and the Bruins have held opponents to an average of 55.5 points during their current 10-game winning streak.
Gonzaga's 71 points in Thursday's loss to UCLA were more than anybody has scored against the Bruins in two months. Still, it's worth noting the Zags only got 29 points in the final 20 minutes while being held to a shooting percentage of .360.
"I don't think we're getting 88 on them," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "I just hope we make more shots than they do because they're really good, they're really physical, they really help and they really stay in front of people driving.
"Could be a 60-point game," Calipari added. "Could be 62-60."
Which would be fine by Memphis, as long as it finishes with the 62. The Tigers have won games in the 50s, 60s, 70s 80s, 90s and 100s this season. So though they'd rather run and score in bunches, it's not a prerequisite to winning, evidence being a 57-46 victory over UAB in the Conference USA Tournament title game.
On that day, the Tigers celebrated despite a sloppy offensive effort. On this day, they'll take a similar performance so long as it produces the same result.
"We'll win 52-50 if we have to," said UofM freshman Antonio Anderson. "It doesn't matter to us as long as we win. We don't care how. We just want to win this game."
-- Gary Parrish: 529-2365
I was prepared for the inevitable loss, but never without a spark of hope. We boarded the Aloha Airline Flight 486 737-300 for a 4 hour 45 minute flight, beginning at 1:45 HST. I read story after story from the Los Angeles papers written before the game trying to make up for the fact that I would be in the air when the game was being played. After exhausting my copied internet sources, I put the computer away noting that there was probably another 30 minutes left in the game, and 2 hours to landing and finding out just how bad it had been. I went back to the Battle of Britain and Spitfires over the Channel in June, 1941, "Circuses" and "Rhubarbs."
30 minutes from touchdown, the pilot came on the intercom and said, "I've been asked to announce the score of the NCAA Regional Final in Oakland, and for the information of any interested passengers, the final score is Memphis 45........... UCLA 50" Spontaneous applause from seat 5F. Some old guy with a beard wearing a blue UCLA Hawaiian shirt, and underneath that, a dark blue UCLA tee shirt stalled his Spitfire for a moment, dropped a thousand feet and did 3 barrel rolls!