In playing its best defense of the season, Memphis has assumed the nation’s longest winning streak and continued its dominance in Conference USA. However, struggling Southern Methodist gave the Tigers a surprisingly tough game two weeks ago.
Fifth-ranked Memphis tries for its 17th straight victory and 53rd conference win in a row Wednesday night when it hosts the Mustangs.
The Tigers (22-3, 10-0) have won seven straight over SMU dating to their first meeting on Dec. 14, 1953. Memphis has taken six of those victories since the Mustangs joined Conference USA in 2005-06 by an average of nearly 20 points, but the last one came in a different fashion.
SMU had the best shooting performance in conference play against one of the league’s top defenses in a 79-66 home loss to Memphis on Feb. 4. The Mustangs (7-16, 1-9) finished at 45.6 percent versus a Tigers team that’s allowed 39.3 percent shooting and an average of 57.9 points in league games.
SMU led 41-39 with 13:43 remaining until Memphis launched a 21-5 run to pull away.
“They play their best game against us,” Memphis forward Robert Dozier said after that game. “They make tough shots here and play their hearts out. We knew they were going to be close. We just had to play through their runs.”
The Tigers have turned up their defensive intensity since that victory, allowing an average of 44.7 points and 36.8 percent shooting in the past three games and winning by a combined 69 points.
In Saturday’s 72-47 victory over Southern Mississippi, Memphis pulled away by holding the Golden Eagles to one basket during a 7:25 span in the second half with a trapping, pressing defense.
“We worked on that for two days—that alone,” Tigers coach John Calipari said.
While the Mustangs shot well against Memphis at home, the Tigers’ defense has proved even more dominant at the FedEx Forum in conference play, allowing 56.4 points and 35.5 percent shooting. The Mustangs also enter Wednesday’s game as the league’s worst offense (60.6 points) and the second-worst shooting team (41.9 percent).
Of SMU’s nine consecutive defeats to ranked opponents—a slide that dates to a 60-59 win over Purdue on Dec. 21, 2003, the past five have come against Memphis.
SMU has also dropped seven straight in league play and two in a row overall, and that skid continued in a bitter 78-75 loss Saturday at Alabama-Birmingham. The Mustangs led by a point with 18 seconds remaining, but the Blazers hit a pair of free throws and came up with a key steal.
Wednesday’s game will feature two of the conference’s top freshmen in Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and SMU’s Paul McCoy. Both guards lead their team in scoring with Evans averaging 16.9 points and McCoy 13.8.
While McCoy scored 29 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the loss to UAB, Evans had 19 points in Saturday’s win, including a personal 9-2 run that helped the Tigers pull away.
“That’s what he does,” Dozier said about Evans. “That’s what we expect from him.”
In their previous matchup, Evans came within a point of matching his career high, scoring 26 points, while McCoy had a team-leading 16 on 6-of-9 shooting.
With a win Wednesday, Memphis seniors Dozier, Antonio Anderson and Chance McGrady will have a school-record 127 victories as a class.