After storming through Conference USA undefeated, Memphis might not have needed the additional advantage of hosting the conference tournament.
But the fifth-ranked Tigers are happy to be playing at FedEx Forum, where they will try to win their 32nd consecutive home game and wrap up a second straight Conference USA tournament title Saturday morning when they play Houston.
With its two lopsided wins en route to reaching the C-USA final, Memphis (29-3) has matched No. 23 BYU with the longest active home winning streak in the country. The Tigers advanced to their third consecutive conference championship game with a 71-49 rout of Tulane on Friday, which also extended the nation’s longest overall winning streak to 21 games.
Chris Douglas-Roberts led the team with 17 points and Jeremy Hunt added 10 off the bench. Coach John Calipari again had the luxury of limiting his starters’ minutes because of the easy win, with no player logging more than 24. Still, he is concerned about the players getting enough rest for the 10:30 a.m. local tip-off time.
“You’ve got some dudes at 11:30 who will still be sleeping,” Calipari said. “This one’s at 10:30. What’ll happen is hopefully both teams come out and be ready.”
With an NCAA tournament berth all but assured, the large leads in the past two games have given Calipari opportunities to experiment. He used a 1-3-1 zone defense that helped the Tigers limit the Green Wave to just 29.3 percent shooting from the field.
“I think I want to play the 1-3-1 the rest of the season,” said Calipari, whose team is winning by an average margin of 19.9 points in the last 21 games.
“We went to that big lineup, the 1-3-1, they didn’t score a basket. It was amazing. Arms everywhere. It was like we had three octopus, or is it octopi? We were pretty good today.”
Memphis last won consecutive tournament titles in 1984-85 as a member of the Metro Conference.
Houston (18-14) is in its first C-USA tournament title game after a 77-62 victory over Rice on Friday. Robert McKiver scored 25 points as the Cougars— who have not been to the NCAA tournament since 1992—broke open a close game with a 12-2 run midway through the second half.
McKiver, who leads the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game, has averaged 25.6 in his last five contests. He and senior guard Oliver Lafayette played all 40 minutes Friday, and all five starters were in action for 31 or more minutes. Still, Houston guard Marcus Malone doesn’t believe his team is at risk for fatigue.
“We’ve actually been up early in the morning running, so I think this early morning game and getting up early every day since we’ve been here has helped us get ready,” he said.
Coach Tom Penders could join an elite group should Houston be able to pull off the upset and claim the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Penders would join Lefty Driesell, Jim Harrick, Rick Pitino and Eddie Sutton as the only coaches to lead four different schools to the NCAA tournament.
Penders previously led Rhode Island, Texas and George Washington to the field of 65.
Memphis won the two games between the teams this season by a combined 23 points and has won four straight overall and five in a row at home over Houston.
- Memphis-Houston Preview
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