MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis coach John Calipari wants his 22nd-ranked Tigers to understand that the way they practice carries over to games.
The practices must have been very good leading up to Thursday night’s 88-55 victory over Cincinnati.
“What happened in practice carried over which is the most important thing,” Calipari said. “What I put on the board was: ‘Perfect practice makes perfect.’ What we had done practicing defensively was what you saw. That may have been the best defensive performance, where we covered for each other, since I’ve been here.”
Senior Jeremy Hunt matched his career-high with 24 points, and freshman Willie Kemp added 21 to lead Memphis. Hunt and Kemp combined to go 12-of-16 from 3-point range for the Tigers (11-3), who won their third straight.
“If they shot the ball like that, we weren’t going to be able to win,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “The worst nightmare happened. They made every shot to start the game.”
Robert Dozier had 13 points for the Tigers, who scored the game’s first 11 points and were up 31 at halftime. Dozier also had eight rebounds, including five offensive. Joey Dorsey had 10 rebounds and five blocks for the Tigers.
Memphis shot over 60 percent from the field for a good portion of the game and finished hitting 43 percent from 3-point range.
Cedric McGowan led Cincinnati (9-5) with 20 points, while John Williamson added 11.
The game was the Bearcats’ first on an opponent’s home floor as their other road games were on neutral courts.
“It’s tough when you’re down like that,” Cronin said. “This was the first time on a real road game, and these guys were going through something like that. We got shell-shocked.”
Memphis entered the game with an 8-0 record at home and no team had threatened to break the streak this season. All the wins were by double digits, and the average margin was 24.6 points. But those victories came against teams like Jackson State, Arkansas State, Lamar and Middle Tennessee.
Despite its tradition and Big East affiliation, Cincinnati quickly fell into the same category. The victory was the largest in the 65 games between the schools which used to share membership in conferences like the Missouri Valley, Metro, Great Midwest and Conference USA.
“And against a rivalry team,” Hunt said emphasizing the satisfaction. “It makes a big difference. It’s pretty much an exclamation point. It shows everybody that we’re not backing down just because of the name on the jersey.”
Memphis got out of the blocks quickly behind the 3-point shooting of Kemp and Hunt. They were a combined 9-of-11 outside the arc in the first half. Kemp led Memphis with 15 points while Hunt had 14 as the Tigers took a 54-23 halftime lead.
“(Hunt) knew because of how he practiced that he was making shots,” Calipari said. “Every time it left his hand, everybody in the building thought it was down. He’s (practiced) that way all week.”
The early 3-point shooting contributed to Memphis connecting on 61 percent of its shots in the first half. The shooting also led to the Bearcats abandoning their zone defense after Hunt hit all four of his 3-pointers from the left wing near the 12-minute mark of the first half.
The 54 points matched Memphis’ season-high in the first half.
“When we come out and play hard and jump on a team like that, teams start backing down,” Kemp said.
McGowan had 11 points for the Bearcats, but despite hitting all of but one of his five first-half shots, Cincinnati shot 30 percent for the half. The Bearcats shot 38 percent for the game.
Memphis led by as many as 39 points, and Calipari again emphasized that it was the result of going hard in practice, even in the pregame shootaround.
“It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to play great,” Calipari said of practicing hard, “but doing the other guarantees you’re playing poorly.”