Memphis coach Josh Pastner is pleased with how well his team has responded since suffering an early setback, but he knows it still has to improve in plenty of areas.
The 18th-ranked Tigers open American Athletic Conference play when they visit South Florida on Tuesday night.Memphis (9-2) has won eight of nine since being routed by 21 points at Oklahoma State on Nov. 19, including getting revenge against the then-No. 5 Cowboys with a 73-68 victory Dec. 1. The only other defeat was a tough 77-75 loss to then-No. 16 Florida on Dec. 17 at Madison Square Garden, but they've followed that with a pair of wins by double digits.Michael Dixon Jr. scored 14 points and Shaq Goodwin added 13 in Saturday's 75-61 victory over Jackson State."I love our team and where we are headed. Yes, we do need to improve and make some course corrections," Pastner said. "We have come a long way from where we were when we got our butts kicked the second game of the season. We have made a lot of strides since then and I know we will continue to get better."Memphis made only 59.4 percent from the foul line Saturday and committed 19 turnovers after having eight in each of its previous two games. The Tigers are 6 for 38 from 3-point range in the last two contests and are at 29.5 percent for the season, second-worst among AAC teams."We will make shots and continue to get better and to trust the process," Pastner said. "I did not like the way we got sloppy there towards the end. We coasted. We got loosey-goosey. We got unsound, and that ends up biting us in the butt."We will be ready to play next Tuesday."This matchup with South Florida opens the Tigers' AAC slate after seven teams departed the conference to help form the new Big East. Memphis, new to the league after agreeing to leave Conference USA to join the old Big East before the conference shift, is one of three ranked teams in the 10-team conference along with No. 14 Louisville and No. 17 Connecticut.More changes are coming next season, when Louisville departs for the ACC and Rutgers joins the Big Ten."I think everyone is getting excited. It is a big conference," said forward David Pellom, who tied his season high with 12 points Saturday. "You have Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati, (Central Florida), USF and us. I think we can be the best team in the conference, but you got to play 40 minutes of basketball each night."The Bulls (9-4) used a second-half surge to beat Bradley 61-57 on Saturday to close their non-conference slate and end a two-game skid. Chris Perry scored a game-high 18 points while Victory Rudd added 17.Rudd leads the team with 16.2 points per game, and he's scored in double figures in each of the last nine. That streak began when he had 14 points in a 93-67 loss Nov. 25 against Oklahoma State, these teams' lone common opponent.Memphis has won 11 of the last 12 meetings with the Bulls, though none have taken place since 2005 when both were members of Conference USA.