MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Like many teams before them, the UTEP
Miners finally succumbed to the depth and speed of Memphis (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today; No. 4 AP).
Conference USA's top two teams battled close until the midway
point of the second half, when the Tigers finally maintained a
double-digit lead and went on to a 66-56 victory Wednesday night."Are they talented? You bet they are," Miners coach Doc Sadler
said of the Tigers. "... They are an awfully good basketball team.
Do they wear you down? Yeah, most definitely."Chris Douglas-Roberts had 17 points for the Tigers who overcame
a strong defensive effort by UTEP for their 14th straight victory.
Memphis (25-2, 11-0) has a two-game lead over the Miners (17-7,
9-2), who lost for only the second time in 12 games.The Miners played most of the game without leading scorer and
rebounder John Tofi, who sprained his right knee with 8:39
remaining in the first half. Tofi, who averages 14.5 points and 9.5
rebounds, was removed on a stretcher after about a 10-minute delay.
He did not score and had three rebounds."When you lose your guy who's getting double points and double
rebounds [that hurts]," Sadler said. "We lost a good rebounder
and they took advantage of it. [Memphis] made an adjustment to make
a difference going inside, and we didn't have an answer for them."Darius Washington scored 11 points for the Tigers, while Rodney
Carney, Memphis' leading scorer on the season with an 18.2 average,
finished with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, including missing all
four of his 3-point attempts. The Miners have allowed an opponent's
leading scorer to reach his average only four times this season.But Douglas-Roberts made up the difference in the early parts of
both halves, including scoring 10 of Memphis' first 14 points in
the game."He made runners, he made them when they bumped him, he made
them inside," Memphis coach John Calipari said of Douglas-Roberts.
"He rebounded the ball. He did a fairly good job of defending. We
[isolated] him about 10 straight times, and about nine of them, we
got something good; either he scored or got somebody else
something."Jason Williams led UTEP with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Kevin Henderson added 13 points and Stefon Jackson had 12.Memphis built its lead to double digits with eight straight
points midway through the second half, and the Miners cut the lead
under 10 only once the rest of the way.Memphis led 32-24 after a first half filled with defensive
intensity on both ends.Both teams played aggressive defense, applying pressure on
ballhandlers and cutting off passing lanes. The play caused Memphis
to shoot 37 percent in the half, while UTEP committed 12 turnovers,
half coming on Memphis steals. There were eight lead changes and
four ties in the half."That's the thing we do best," Sadler said of the defense.
"You give up 66 points to a team that's averaging in the 80s,
without John Tofi in the ballgame, you've got to be happy."In the end, Tofi's absence enhanced Memphis' strength to
continually rotate players while pushing its defense and running
its offense. The pace made a difference."If we can sub four in and not miss a beat, that says something
about our team," Carney said. "Once they are wearing down, they
might have one or two new people. We can sub four more and keep the
same intensity. That really wears teams down."