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March 13, 2008

No. 2 Memphis cruises into C-USA semifinals

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Even the free throws were dropping for Memphis as the Tigers began what they hope will be another championship run through the Conference USA tournament with an easy victory.

Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 17 points, and No. 2 Memphis made 71 percent of its free throws in a 75-56 victory Thursday night on its home floor against Tulane.

The Tigers (31-1) came in shooting 58.7 percent from the line, one of the worst percentages in Division I. It's the most obvious weakness on team with few. Against Tulane, Memphis went 22-for-31 from the stripe.

"I know that makes everybody mad because they want this to be the centerpiece of our team, our free throw shooting," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "These guys will tell you, I've never worried about it."

Even Joey Dorsey, who has only gotten worse in his career and now is a 36.4 percent shooter at the line as a senior, got into the act. He finished 4-for-6 and drew a loud cheer from the crowd after hitting three of his first four.

"What about Joey stepping up and making free throws. ... That is a big night," Calipari said.

Memphis, the two-time defending tournament champ, will play Southern Mississippi, which beat No. 4 seed UCF 68-62.

Calipari and the Tigers are trying to lock down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. As long as they don't stumble in the conference tournament, a top seed seems like a good bet.

That just wasn't going to happen Thursday night, not against No. 9 seed Tulane (17-15) which had lost eight of its last nine. Memphis improved to 38-6 in this series.

Tulane coach Dave Dickerson wasn't happy about the discrepancy in free-throw shooting. Tulane shot only 10 free throws and was called for 23 fouls.

"I just wish we could have had a better situation for our guys," Dickerson said. "Hats off to Memphis. They are a very good team, great coach, great players. I hope they win a national championship for our conference."

Memphis, who beat Tulane 97-71 on Feb. 20, came in having beaten the Green Wave by an average of 30 1/2 points in their past six games. The Green Wave hasn't beaten Memphis since Feb. 9, 2000, or left Memphis with a win over the Tigers since 1992.

Robert Dozier added 14 points for Memphis, his highest-scoring game since that last win against Tulane, and he also grabbed nine rebounds. Doneal Mack added 11 points off the bench. Derrick Rose had six assists and six rebounds to offset a 2-for-8 performance from the floor.

David Gomez led Tulane with 18 points, and Robinson Louisme added 13 on 6-of-7 shooting. Gomez said he feels the seniors left a mark at Tulane with consecutive winning seasons.

"We have gone through a lot of adversity, and I feel like we have come through that," he said.

Memphis dominated on the boards, too, outrebounding Tulane 43-28.

The Tigers never gave Tulane a chance to get started. They dunked on three of their first four buckets and grabbed eight of the first 10 rebounds. Louisme picked up two fouls within the first 24 seconds and got his third at 16:07, which helped neutralize him on the boards.

"That's where it all started from, and our confidence was real high after that," Douglas-Roberts said. "And that made it easy for us to get out and run."

Dickerson tried to slow down Memphis, calling two 30-second timeouts inside the opening seven minutes. With the Green Wave missing four of their first five shots, it wasn't enough.

Willie Kemp came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer for Memphis, and Doneal Mack added another for a 16-4 lead at 14:26

But Memphis went cold, not hitting another shot from the floor after Douglas-Roberts' jumper with 10:40 left in the first half. Tulane tried to take advantage of the Tigers' soft spot by sending them to the line.

It didn't work. Memphis connected on 14-of-19 in the first half, and the Tigers led by as much as 23 in the second half.

Calipari took a share of the blame for disrupting the Tigers' rhythm by substituting too much.

"When you are doing this tournament thing, the biggest thing is I just want to know how many guys am I going to be able to play, and we subbed I think 11 or 12 in that first half," Calipari said.

The fans got so bored they started doing the wave and cheered Dorsey, who has fouled out four times this season, when he picked up his first personal foul with 6:24 to go.

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

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