MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)-- When Memphis couldn't shake a
stubborn Tulsa team, the Tigers decided to start running the
offense through Shawne Williams.
The freshman forward scored 21 points, including nine during the
game-deciding run over the final six minutes, to lead Memphis (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today; No. 4 AP) to a
78-67 victory on Saturday.
Williams said Memphis coach John Calipari has made it clear that
the coach is going to lean on him and guard Darius Washington if
the Tigers are in trouble.
"Like [Calipari] told the whole team, at the end of every game,
if there's a clutch basket that needs to be made, he was going to
give it to Darius or me," Williams said. "He made that understood
a month, two months ago. He saw that the man couldn't stop me on
Tulsa stayed close until Williams began scoring inside as
Memphis (26-2, 12-0 Conference USA) outscored the Golden Hurricane
18-5 down the stretch to win its 15th game in a row and earn at
least a share of the conference title.
The Tigers finally put Tulsa away with an 11-0 run, capped by a
dunk from Rodney Carney, to give them some breathing room at 71-62
with 2 minutes left.
Carney finished with 20 points, while Washington scored 13
points for Memphis.
"Are they better than us? No," Calipari said. "[But] they
were today. They wanted the game more than us today. They executed
better than us today. They scrapped more than us today."
The Golden Hurricane clogged the middle, cutting off penetration
and forcing Memphis to shoot outside, and the plan almost worked.
Tulsa, which lost 84-61 to Memphis at home earlier in the month,
held a 62-60 lead when Reese connected on a pair of free throws
with just under 6 minutes remaining.
At that point, the Memphis crowd sensed that things were getting
a bit desperate. The Tigers had coasted through many of their
conference wins, especially at home. The partisan crowd rose to
their feet on every possession as the Memphis offense, which had
struggled throughout, finally got going.
But it took a change in philosophy. Memphis began posting up
Williams, who responded with a pair of inside baskets and a foul
shot to start Memphis' final spurt.
"I don't think we've been in a situation like that since
Gonzaga," Chris Douglas-Roberts said, referring to the Tigers'
Dec. 27 win. "[Calipari] told us to just throw it in the post and
get to the free throw line and slow the game down. Even though we
don't like slowing the game down, we had to to be effective."
Tulsa stayed close through the first half by protecting the
basketball and shooting 48 percent. The Golden Hurricane committed
24 turnovers in their first loss to Memphis, but made only seven in
the first half on Saturday. They finished with 11.
There were seven ties and 16 lead changes in the first half, and
a 3-pointer by Carney with 2 seconds left gave Memphis a 42-37 lead
at the break.
"I thought Rodney Carney stepped up really big when he had
to," Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. "The 3 he hit towards the end
of the first half, and the 3 when it was a two-point game late in
the second half, hurt us."
The Tigers may have built a lead earlier if not for a poor
performance from the foul line where they hit 26 of 41 shots. But
much like the offense got untracked at the end, the Tigers did
better from the line, hitting their final 11.
"For a while there in the second half, we played not to lose
instead of playing to win," Calipari said. "We had a chance to
lose the game, but we won it, and we will move on."