Memphis won't have to wait long for the chance to avenge last week's loss to Oklahoma State.
However, payback won't be on the mind of coach Josh Pastner when his No. 21 Tigers face the fifth-ranked Cowboys in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday night near Orlando.
Memphis (4-1) wasn't up to the challenge when it visited Oklahoma State (7-0) on Nov. 19, trailing by 18 at halftime and as much as 34 in the second half of a 101-80 loss. While Cowboys star Marcus Smart had a career-high 39 points, the Tigers' talented guard quartet of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon Jr. and Chris Crawford totaled 21 points on 8-of-34 shooting (23.5 percent).
Pastner's team, though, rebounded nicely to beat Nicholls State and Siena by a combined 66 points before earning a hard-fought 76-69 victory over LSU in Friday's tournament semifinals. That result set up a title-game date with the Cowboys, who survived a scare of their own in Friday's 69-67 victory over Butler.
"It's the next game on our schedule," Pastner said. "I'm not big into revenge or any of that stuff. There is no revenge. It's for us to get better. We've got to continue to get better and trust the process because it's the long haul.
"Oklahoma State is a great team. They've got a great player, obviously, in Marcus Smart. (Coach) Travis Ford does a tremendous job with their team."
To have a chance, Pastner knows his team must improve on the way it played in Stillwater. That's the only time in five games the Tigers allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points, and it was their worst shooting performance of the season at 41.2 percent from the field and 2 of 13 on 3-point attempts.
However, their ability to gut out a victory against pesky LSU could help prepare them for the rematch. Freshman Austin Nichols had 19 points with eight rebounds, Jackson added 16 points with seven assists and four steals, and Memphis won despite LSU shooting 56.6 percent and owning a 37-25 rebounding advantage.
Memphis, however, scored 33 points off 24 LSU turnovers.
"We just stayed together as a team," said Crawford, who had a season-high 17 points after being held scoreless in 15 minutes of the 87-60 win over Siena on Thursday.
"As coach always says, play as a team and trust the process. Just get better every day, and that's what we've been doing."
The Tigers hope to progress against an Oklahoma State team that expects to do the same after struggling to put away its last two opponents. A day after the Cowboys' 23-point lead was cut to four with three minutes to play in a 97-87 win over Purdue, they had trouble holding a 14-point halftime advantage versus Butler.
Smart had a team-high 17 points but missed three free throws in the final minute with his team ahead by one. However, Butler's Khyle Marshall missed two foul shots with 8.4 seconds remaining and the Cowboys eventually prevailed.
Oklahoma State shot 58.1 percent in the first half but 40.7 in the final 20 minutes.
"We're not paying attention to details as much as we are in the first half," said Ford, whose program is off to its best start since going 11-0 in 2006-07.
Smart, who had 30 points versus Purdue, is shooting 51.4 percent in the last four contests. He went 11 of 21 from the field and hit half of his 10 3-point attempts against the Tigers last week.
"When he scores like that, he could be the best player in college basketball," Pastner said.
Oklahoma State has won three in a row over Memphis, which has dropped 14 straight games against ranked opponents since a 68-50 victory at then-No. 18 Gonzaga on Feb. 7, 2009.
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