Critics of Memphis often point to its supposedly soft schedule. This season, they’ll have trouble with that argument.
One game after knocking off a top-five opponent, the No. 2 Tigers play another ranked team when they host No. 17 Arizona on Saturday, hoping to extend their home winning streak to 38.
Last season, Memphis (10-0) was just 1-2 against ranked teams before the NCAA tournament, including a 79-71 loss at then-No. 9 Arizona last December. That was the Tigers’ most recent regular-season loss, as they went 16-0 in a weak Conference USA and have now won 29 straight in the regular season.
But this season, they’ve done it against tougher opponents, beating Southern California 62-58 in overtime when the Trojans were No. 24 on Dec. 4 and downing then-No. 5 Georgetown 85-71 last Saturday, extending the program’s best start to a season since 1985-86. Later in the season, they play No. 11 Tennessee and Gonzaga, which fell from the top 25 this week.
Few wins could be more impressive than the one against the previously undefeated Hoyas, who hadn’t allowed that many points since January 2004. The Tigers held 7-foot-2 preseason All-American Roy Hibbert to a season-low six points, outrebounded the Hoyas 43-30 and won their 37th straight at home, one shy of Brigham Young’s national-best active run of 38.
“We scheduled a game on Dec. 22 because we’re trying to learn about our team,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “But if you win it’s a huge game. That’s why it was. We won it with defense. We executed offensively the best we executed all year.”
Against Georgetown, leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts broke out of his slump with 24 points and eight rebounds. Over the previous three games, the junior had averaged just 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds, but he’s averaging 17.4 points for the season.
“I was more aggressive,” said Douglas-Roberts, who needs just five points to reach 1,000 for his career. “The previous two I was playing lackadaisical. I don’t know why. My head really wasn’t into the game. I wasn’t up to the pace. I really don’t have an answer.”
Robert Dozier had a season-high 19 points for the Tigers while Joey Dorsey had his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Derrick Rose also had 18 points despite 5-of-15 shooting.
Arizona (9-2) also has a talented freshman in Jerryd Bayless, who leads the team with 18.5 points per game and had 15 in a 74-58 win over San Diego State last Saturday. That was the sixth straight win for the Wildcats, who are playing the entire season under interim coach Kevin O’Neill while Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson takes a leave of absence.
Against San Diego State, sophomore center Jordan Hill continued his emergence for Arizona, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his third double-double in the last four games after averaging just 4.7 points last season.
“When I step on the court, I just think that no big man can stop me,” Hill said. “I know that I’m hard to stop, so I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do.”
Over the last three games, the Wildcats have held opponents to 32.4 percent shooting from the field and an average of just 52.3 points.
“I think we’re developing a little bit of a camaraderie on the defensive end, a little pride that makes you keep playing hard,” said O’Neill, who has a reputation as a defensive coach.
Last season’s meeting was the first between the programs since the 1965-66 season, but they’re 3-3 against each other all-time.