Memphis coach Josh Pastner hasn't reached the mountaintop but he's one win away from a plateau some thought he might not ever reach.
When the season started back in November, Pastner hadn't beaten a top-25 team in his four previous seasons combined coaching the Tigers. He was 0-13 against the top 25. Sure, his Tigers squeaked by St. Mary's to earn his first NCAA tournament win in 2013 before earning that elusive win over a ranked opponent, but there were more than a few Memphis fans ready to throw in the towel believing the school made a mistake replacing John Calipari with Pastner back in the spring of 2009 when Calipari bolted for Kentucky.
After all, Pastner didn't get to the second weekend of the tournament last year.
Those critics were most recently revived when the Tigers were blown out by UConn in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament last week. Pastner has referred to those critics as 'Squeaky wheels' and 'negative nellies.'
But Pastner and his always positive demeanor might have finally won over the Memphis fan base for good Friday night when the Tigers defeated Geroge Washington 71-66 in the NCAA tournament, giving Pastner his second consecutive season with a victory in the tournament to add to five wins over ranked opponents earned earlier this season.
The Tigers move on to the round of 32 Sunday when they will play either No. 1 seed Virginia or No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 in the East Region. If Pastner and the Tigers win Sunday, it seems unlikely there will be much left for his detractors to use against him.
As usual, Pastner didn't want to talk about those issues after the game when Rachel Nichols spoke to him on the court in an interview on TBS.
"Look, I like being around Positive Pauls. I don't want any Negative Nellies," Pastner said. "Life is too short to be negative and worrying about this and that.
"It is becoming increasingly harder to get in the tournament and every game is hard. Every team we play is well-coached and good players. We won the game today because of guys like Joe Jackson and his teammates who won us the game. So all I'm focused on is positive energy. Anything else, I'm not into that."
Speaking of Jackson, he scored 15 points and dished six assists for the Tigers. Missouri transfer Michael Dixon scored 19 and hit all five of his free throws, including four in the final 10 seconds to secure the win.
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