John Klein: Memphis still remains king of C-USA basketball
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, March 04, 2012
3/04/12 at 6:50 AM
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TU basketball notebook: Turning it around
Original Print Headline: Memphis remains the king of C-USA
Remember when the state of Oklahoma had great college basketball?
Remember when Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were nationally significant teams?
Memphis gave us a reminder of that quality of college basketball on Saturday at the Reynolds Center.
"We've done some good things lately," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner.
The Tigers did some great things against Tulsa, kicking it into high gear during a beautiful run out of the halftime break, building a three-point lead to 22 in less than seven minutes, as Memphis hammered Tulsa 78-66.
"It was not the way we wanted to end senior day," said Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik.
Let's be brutally honest. This game was never close and TU never really threatened to make it a game, especially in the final 20 minutes.
Unranked Memphis, which started the season ranked in the top 10, had a double-digit lead virtually the entire second half.
The Tigers could and did name the final score.
"It's a loss," said TU's Steven Idlet. "It hurts. We've got to pick ourselves back up."
Memphis (23-8) locked up the regular-season Conference USA title and sent a clear and loud message to the rest of the league. Memphis is by far the best team in C-USA if the Tigers stay motivated for the conference tournament.
"Our guys earned the right to win Conference USA," said Pastner.
Memphis was just 6-5 after the Christmas break. "There was negativity," said Pastner. "There were some rocky waters."
Since then, the Tigers have won 17 of their last 20 games.
The Tigers could have easily run the table. Memphis' three conference losses were by one, two and three points.
"I don't know if they are the best team we've seen, but they are pretty good," said Tulsa's Jordan Clarkson.
"They played pretty well," said Idlet.
Tulsa got a lesson in just how far it needs to improve to get back to the level of Memphis.
TU (17-13), would appear to face long odds in trying to break a nine-year NCAA Tournament drought, the longest non-NCAA streak for TU since the 1970s.
The Golden Hurricane has lost two straight and four of its last seven. TU isn't exactly streaking to Memphis, where it will open play in the C-USA Tournament on Thursday.
There is every reason to believe Tulsa will face a struggle in Memphis. The Golden Hurricane has not played at a high level in recent games.
"We've got to find our confidence," said Wojcik.
The Golden Hurricane seldom threatened Memphis in this game.
Even though Memphis led by only three at the half, this game was not close. The Tigers led by 10 barely six minutes into the game and kept a double-digit lead until just before halftime. TU made its best and most significant run at Memphis in the final minute of the first half going on a 8-0 run to cut the lead to three.
"We got sloppy and Tulsa capitalized on it," Pastner said.
That didn't last long. The lead was back up to 12 barely three minutes into the second half.
"We just didn't start the second half," Wojcik said.
As expected for any team playing at home, the Golden Hurricane made a few runs, but Memphis was never pressured in the final 20 minutes.
This was an easy road victory for a team that seems to be hitting its stride at the perfect time.
"We're not a big team, but we are quick and fast," said Pastner. "We have gotten better.
"Will Barton was terrific. But, we've still got room for growth."
Barton was fabulous, scoring 30 points (12 of 17). He is playing like the conference player of the year, a trophy he should get next week.
"He's as good as anyone we've played this year," said Wojcik.
Tulsa has work to do to salvage the season.
The Golden Hurricane has to win the Conference USA Tournament or the season will be over. The Hurricane, with an RPI of 106 according to Collegiate Basketball News, has no chance for an NIT bid.
Tulsa has five days to fix what has gone wrong in the past week and make a push in the league tournament.
"We've got to get ourselves in a good place mentally," Wojcik said.
If so, perhaps there is some magic to be found down in Memphis. If not, Tulsa will once again find itself sitting on the side watching the dance.
Memphis guard Will Barton shoots in the lane while guarded by TU's Steven Idlet. Barton scored 30 points for the Tigers in Memphis' 78-66 win. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World