LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (TICKER) —Taquan Dean hit his first basket of the game when it counted most.
The freshman guard drilled a 3-pointer from the right side with 11 seconds left to give 16th-ranked Louisville the lead for good in a 78-75 victory over No. 24 Memphis in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament.
Dean had missed his first seven shots from the field, but that did not stop him from taking what looked like an ill-advised jumper over Memphis’ Rodney Carney.
“I give that shot to Coach (Pitino) because he gives me all the confidence,” Dean said. “I knew I still had one in me. It felt great.”
Antonio Burks had hit 1-of-2 free throws with 22.6 seconds left to give Memphis a 75-73 advantage before Dean delivered his 3-pointer.
After Billy Richmond missed a driving one-handed shot from the right baseline, Louisville’s Luke Whitehead rebounded and was fouled. He hit both free throws to increase the lead to 78-75 with 4.3 seconds left.
Memphis had one last chance to tie, but Burks hit the back rim on a 3-point-attempt at the buzzer.
“I thought it was good, but it didn’t go down,” Burks said.
Louisville (23-6) will play Alabama-Birmingham in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday.
The win was the 20th for Louisville coach Rick Pitino in his last 22 conference tournament games.
“It was a very exciting basketball game,” Pitino said. “This conference is going to get better and better and we are excited about the victory. I thought that we played great team defense tonight and that’s all we talked about that defense wins championships and nothing else.”
Louisville center Marvin Stone was cleared to play after missing three of the team’s previous four games during an NCAA investigation and played a prominent role, scoring 15 points and helping to hold Memphis star forward Chris Massie scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. Massie, who averaged more than 17 points per game this season, fouled out with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.
“What Marvin Stone gives us does not show up on a stat sheet,” Pitino said. “He’s a big son of a gun, he bothers everybody and he changes shots.”
“They almost played like a zone and they wore Chris down,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “They did what they set out to do.”
Freshman Francisco Garcia also had 15 points for the Cardinals.
Louisville leading scorer Reece Gaines had just 10 on 3-of-9 shooting and fouled out with just more than four minutes left.
John Grice led Memphis (23-6) with a career-high 29 points, including six 3-pointers. He had 23 of those points in the second half when the Tigers rallied from an 11-point deficit.
“Coach just told me to make sure your hands are right,” Grice said. “Try to get a good follow through and hope for the results, and thank the lord it went in.”
The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for Memphis (23-6), which will likely will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Tigers won the National Invitation Tournament.
Bryant Northern scored nine points in the first half when Louisville built a 36-27 lead.
Memphis made just 4-of-15 shots in the half, but was 16-of-23 from the free throw line.
“I was ecstatic that we down by only nine,” Calipari said. “We had four field goals and we were down nine.”
Grice connected on five 3-pointers in the first 13 1/2 minutes of the second half to pull Memphis within 61-60.
The Tigers took their first lead of the second half, 71-70 on a steal and layup by Burks with 1:29 left and Grice added a pair of free throws with 33 seconds remaining. But Garcia responded with two free throws nine seconds later.
“You live for these types of games,” Burks said. “We played hard, they played hard and they just went away with the win.”