MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—The fifth-ranked Memphis Tigers are cruising through the Conference USA tournament so easily that coach John Calipari has time to experiment for the NCAA tournament.
He pulled out a 1-3-1 zone defense Friday in the tournament semifinals, and his Tigers pressured Tulane well enough to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to a school-record 21 straight with a 71-49 victory.
“I think I want to play the 1-3-1 the rest of the season,” Calipari said.
“We went to that big lineup, the 1-3-1, they didn’t score a basket. It was amazing. Arms everywhere. It was like we had three octopus, or is it octopi? We were pretty good today.”
They forced 14 of their 22 turnovers in the first half, turning them into 21 points and a 41-22 halftime lead. Chris Douglas-Roberts led Memphis with 17 points, and Jeremy Hunt added 10 off the bench for the Tigers, who have tied BYU for the longest home winning streak.
The top-seeded Tigers (29-3) will play Houston, a 77-62 winner over Rice, in the championship Saturday. The regular-season champions will be playing for consecutive tournament titles on a court where they have won 31 consecutive games.
Calipari said it took him two days to install the defense, mixing and matching which players to put at the top or near the baseline. The result is a combination of long arms and something else to make it tougher for future opponents.
“We added a few wrinkles on out-of-bounds plays, a little bit of a change-up defensively just to make it a little bit tougher to prepare,” Calipari said.
Donnie Stith led Tulane with 14 points. The Green Wave had 22 turnovers and shot 29.3 percent (17-for-58). Coach Dave Dickerson said his team had the same matchup problems 21 other teams have had against the athletic Tigers.
“They’re a good team, and they have good players. So they played well today when they needed too,” Dickerson said.
Tulane (17-13) came in having won four straight and playing in the semifinals for the first time since 2000. But Tulane hasn’t beaten the Tigers in Memphis since 1992-93, and Memphis continued its dominance with its 13th straight victory overall.
The Tigers beat Tulane 95-51 on Feb. 10, and this game was close only for the first 10 minutes.
Chris Moore hit a 3-pointer with 10:03 to go that pulled fourth-seeded Tulane within 20-18, then the Green Wave went cold and hit only one shot from the floor the rest of the half. Stith scored in the final seconds after hitting a pair of free throws at 1:37.
It was so bad for Tulane that Asim McQueen’s struggles at the free throw line with 4:49 left in the half summed it up. He bounced his first free throw off the front of the rim, then missed the second off the back.
Douglas-Roberts said he was a little nervous with the zone early.
“We didn’t work on it that much. The other team was nervous too because they’d never seen that zone before. I feel we did a pretty good job at it for not having that much preparation,” he said.
The Tigers ramped up their defense with eight steals among the turnovers they turned into 21 points, which was reminiscent of the quarterfinal victory in which they had outscored Marshall 26-0 off turnovers by halftime.
They finished off the half with a 21-4 run, and Douglas-Roberts scoring 11, including nine of the final 11.
Douglas-Roberts scored nine straight starting with a dunk off a high pass from Antonio Anderson that had the sophomore reaching way back over his head for the ball before slamming it through. Douglas-Roberts finished off his personal run with a 3 from the top of the key and a 39-20 lead.
Memphis kept pushing the lead in the second half despite missing its first four shots. With the Tigers up 63-34 after Andre Allen’s 3-pointer with more than seven minutes left, the fans who filled half the FedEx Forum started doing the wave to liven up the atmosphere during a timeout.
The large lead allowed Calipari to rest most of his starters in the second half for the quick turnaround to the title game. Only freshman point guard Willie Kemp was still in with five minutes to go, and he came out a couple minutes later.
By the end, 14 Tigers played and all but two scored.
Calipari didn’t let anyone play more than 24 minutes, saying the team ready to play at 10:30 a.m. local time will win Saturday.
“You’ve got some dudes at 11:30 who will still be sleeping. This one’s at 10:30. What’ll happen is hopefully both teams come out and be ready,” Calipari said.
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