Despite the success of their basketball programs and their relative proximity to one another, Memphis and Kentucky have never met on the hardwood.
That all changes on Wednesday, when the 12th-ranked Tigers face the 20th-ranked Wildcats in the third-place game at the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
It’s a game neither team wanted to be in, but after losing semifinal matchups against other ranked opponents, it’s where the two schools will meet for the first time.
Kentucky (3-1) suffered a hard-fought 73-68 defeat to No. 5 UCLA on Tuesday while Memphis blew a 16-point halftime lead in a 92-85 loss to No. 19 Georgia Tech.
The Tigers’ young players learned a harsh lesson in the importance of rebounding, as the Yellow Jackets outrebounded Memphis 29-9 in the second half to help erase the large deficit.
“We got spanked,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “I can’t remember the last time a team of mine got outrebounded 29-9 or gave up 62 points in a half. I will watch the tape and look at 23 offensive rebounds and about 12 loose balls we didn’t get and let our guys know that’s how we lost the game.”
Memphis (2-1) was outscored 62-39 in the second half. Once seemingly on its way to an easy victory, the Tigers fell apart trying to keep up with Georgia Tech’s veteran big men.
Chris Douglas-Roberts had a career-high 26 points for the Tigers, but Robert Dozier—who entered the game averaging 13 points—played only eight minutes and didn’t score before fouling out with 10:09 to go.
“Robert would have had an impact on the glass, but he wasn’t going to get 23 rebounds,” Douglas-Roberts said. “The way we played we deserved this. We let up and they got back in the game.”
Kentucky worked itself back into its game with the Bruins, but ran out of gas at the end. The Wildcats trailed 26-9 early in the first half, but managed to take their first lead at 50-48 midway through the second half.
Joe Crawford had 16 points to lead Kentucky. Randolph Morris added 11 points and four rebounds while Ramel Bradley scored only eight points—eight below his season average—and committed four turnovers.
“UCLA really executed down the stretch. They made plays, made shots when they had to,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “A couple of stops on the defensive end and we would have had a chance to win the game.”
While this is the first meeting between Kentucky and Memphis, Calipari is familiar with the Wildcats. His Massachusetts team lost 81-74 to Kentucky in the 1996 Final Four and he is 1-4 all-time against the Wildcats.
Smith defeated Memphis 70-68 in 1996 while he was coaching Georgia.
The Tigers are looking for their second third-place finish in four Maui appearances. Kentucky won the title in 1993, and finished third in 1997 and 2002.