After keeping alive its lengthy win streaks through a pair of contentious games and clinching another conference title, Memphis should have an easier time Saturday.
Searching for their 56th Conference USA victory in a row, the fifth-ranked Tigers also can record the longest winning streak in the nation as they host struggling Southern Mississippi.
Memphis (25-3, 13-0) won its fourth consecutive regular-season league title Thursday night with a 71-60 victory at UAB. The Tigers led by a point with 4:28 remaining before finishing on a 15-5 run at the site of their last Conference USA loss on March 2, 2006.
They trailed at halftime in a 70-63 victory at UTEP last Saturday and never led by more than 11 points in the second half.
“This is one of those teams that you don’t know where it’s going to come from,” coach John Calipari said. “It’s crazy. We are trying to do something special. We’ve been in a lot of tight games.”
A victory Saturday would be the Tigers’ 20th straight to break a tie with Utah State, which had a 19-game run end two weeks ago, for the longest win streak in the country this season. Memphis also had the longest in 2007-08 with 26 straight and in 2006-07 with 25 in a row.
The Tigers haven’t had much trouble with Southern Miss (14-13, 4-9), which has lost seven of eight overall and five straight on the road. Memphis has won all 11 meetings since Feb. 24, 2004, and the past four have come by an average of 21.5 points, including a 72-47 road win on Feb. 14 behind Tyreke Evans’ 19 points.
Evans leads the team with 16.8 points per game, but the star freshman is coming off his one of his worst performances, shooting 3-of-14 on Thursday and finishing with more turnovers (nine) than points (eight).
“Tyreke played awful,” Calipari said. “That’s the worst I’ve seen him since I’ve coached him. He’s had some bad halves, but he’s normally able to flip it over.”
With Evans misfiring, the Tigers were carried by their other four starters— all of whom are juniors or seniors. Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart both had double-doubles while guards Doneal Mack and Antonio Anderson were the team’s top scorers with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
The Tigers had five players score in double figures in their last meeting with Southern Miss and nearly had a sixth as Taggart finished with eight.
After that loss, the Golden Eagles (14-13, 4-9) bounced back with a 69-59 victory over East Carolina on Feb. 17, but they’ve dropped their last two by a combined 44 points. Southern Miss allowed UAB and Tulane to shoot better than 50 percent in those defeats and was held to 37.9 percent in a 73-59 home loss to the Green Wave on Tuesday night.
That doesn’t bode well for a Golden Eagles team facing one of the nation’s top defenses. Memphis is limiting opponents to 59.1 points per game and 37.4 percent shooting.
Jeremy Wise, who led Southern Miss with 16 points Tuesday, is scoring a team-high 16.0 points per game and has reached double figures in nine straight.
Memphis leads the series 57-23 and has won eight in a row at home over Southern Miss since Jan. 5, 2002.