Memphis hopes winning the Conference USA tournament title will earn it a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It didn’t look very deserving of one of the top seeds in its first league tournament game.
Trying to add a fourth straight tournament championship to their fourth regular-season title in a row, the fourth-ranked Tigers look to come out with a stronger effort when they play Houston in Friday’s C-USA semifinals.
Memphis (29-3) seemed a bit tired and a sloppy in Thursday’s 51-41 quarterfinal win over Tulane.
The Tigers defeated the Green Wave 74-47 in Saturday’s regular-season finale to complete their third straight undefeated run through the league schedule, but trailed 32-28 with 16:45 left Thursday before going on an 18-0 run to put the game away.
With the victory, Memphis extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 23 straight games and pushed its C-USA winning streak to 59.
“It’s about winning and marching on,” Tigers coach John Calipari said. “This was ugly. It didn’t look like us, but I want to give credit to Tulane.”
Shawn Taggart had a game-high 19 points, but Memphis’ other four starters combined for only 27.
“We have guys in the room that should be telling each other, ‘I’ll be better tomorrow, you watch,’” Calipari said.
Although its offense struggled Thursday, Memphis had another solid defensive outing. The Tigers, who led the league in scoring defense during the regular season (58.2), held the Green Wave without a point for nearly 16 minutes and limited them to just 28.6 percent shooting in the game.
While the win was hardly a thing of beauty, Memphis stayed in the hunt for a No. 1 NCAA seed. Losses by No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 Connecticut, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 11 Kansas on Thursday also helped the Tigers’ case.
The Tigers are seeking their 10th straight victory over fifth-seeded Houston (21-10), which advanced to the semifinals by defeating UTEP 89-85 in overtime Thursday. Memphis swept the two-game regular-season series from Houston, and has not lost to the Cougars since a 66-53 setback on Feb. 5, 2005.
“We’re pleased to move on and get to the semifinals, but that’s a heck of a task (to play Memphis) after a ball game like this. But that’s what these tournaments are all about,” Cougars coach Tom Penders said.
Houston, which shot 36.2 percent in its two losses to Memphis this season, has lost 10 straight games against ranked opponents since a 69-65 win over then-No. 15 Arizona on Dec. 3, 2005.
Junior guard Aubrey Coleman, averaging a team-best 19.9 points, led the Cougars with 24 Thursday. He had 35 points in Houston’s 83-68 loss at Memphis on Jan. 31.
The winner of this game plays either Tulsa or UAB in Saturday’s championship.