UAB was the last team to beat Memphis in Conference USA play, and the Blazers were also the conference opponent that gave the No. 2 Tigers their toughest test this season.
So it’s only fitting that for Memphis to complete its second consecutive undefeated C-USA season, the Tigers will have to beat the visiting Blazers on Saturday in a possible preview of the league championship game.
The only C-USA game the Tigers (29-1, 15-0) have lost in the last three seasons was an 80-74 defeat at UAB on March 2, 2006, and entering Saturday, Memphis has won 38 straight conference games, including postseason.
But that streak nearly ended in Birmingham on Feb. 16, when the then-undefeated and top-ranked Tigers earned a 79-78 win behind 32 points from Chris Douglas-Roberts and 27 from Antonio Anderson.
UAB shot 51.0 percent from the field and “pretty much had its way with us offensively,” according to Tigers coach John Calipari, but a three-point play by Douglas-Roberts with 6.5 seconds left gave Memphis the lead, and a UAB basket at the other end was ruled to have been released after time ran out.
“Anybody watching that, either here or on television, had to say what a great game that was,” Calipari said.
The Tigers’ chance at an undefeated season ended the next weekend in a 66-62 loss to then-No. 2 Tennessee, but they’ve won three straight since, including Wednesday’s 72-55 win at SMU.
Memphis has already clinched the top seed in the C-USA tournament, but the Tigers are looking to become the first team in league history to go undefeated in the regular season in two consecutive years. Only one other team - Cincinnati in 1999-2000 - has done it even once.
The Tigers are also looking for their third consecutive 30-win season. Before the current run, they only had one such season in school history, and Calipari would become only the second coach - after Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp from 1946-49 - to direct a team to three straight 30-win seasons.
Their 29th win was good enough to give them a perfect season on the road for the first time since the 1960-61 season. Derrick Rose had 19 points and Douglas-Roberts had 18 against SMU, but Calipari wasn’t pleased with Memphis’ inside play.
The Tigers were outrebounded 35-34, and forwards Shawn Taggart, Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey combined for just 10 points and 14 rebounds.
“I’m not throwing them under the bus,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, they’re good enough to be as good as anybody in the country. We’re not getting it right now from them. So what’s happening is we’re relying on Derrick and we’re relying on CDR. But at some point, you’ve got to have a frontline guy get 18 and 17 and 12 rebounds, or you’re not winning.”
Dorsey will be honored on senior day Saturday, but he has struggled recently, averaging just 5.5 rebounds in the last six games after pulling down 11.1 in the season’s first 22 games. He has come off the bench in five of the last nine games after starting his first 19, and he had just one point and two rebounds against UAB last month.
The Blazers (22-8, 12-3) haven’t lost since that game, winning five straight to lock up the No. 2 seed and a bye in the C-USA tournament. They beat Tulsa 84-70 on Wednesday, as Robert Vaden scored 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting from 3-point range.
Vaden had 27 points against Memphis this season, but that was a mild game compared with his recent efforts. In his last four games, Vaden is averaging 30.3 points and shooting 50.8 (30-of-59) from 3-point range.
Vaden is in his first season at UAB since transferring from Indiana, following Blazers coach and former Hoosiers coach Mike Davis to Birmingham.
Memphis has won four straight against the Blazers since their last conference loss.