After its best defensive performance in 30 years, Memphis seems very unlikely to have the nation’s second-longest win streak or a lengthy run of Conference USA victories ended by a team trying to avoid its worst skid in three years.
The eighth-ranked Tigers search for their 52nd straight league victory and 16th in a row overall Saturday when they visit struggling Southern Mississippi.
Memphis (21-3, 9-0) limited visiting Tulsa to 35.9 percent shooting and forced 24 turnovers in a 63-37 win Wednesday night for its 15th consecutive win, currently trailing only Utah State’s 19-game run for best in the country. The 37 points marked the fewest the Tigers had allowed since a 35-34 loss to Florida State on Feb. 25, 1979.
“What we did was we used a couple of schemes they hadn’t seen us use before,” said Memphis coach John Calipari, whose team’s last C-USA loss came to UAB on March 2, 2006. “I think that kind of rocked them a little bit.”
While allowing a conference-low 60.0 points per game, the Tigers are holding opponents to 37.6 percent from the field to rank among the national leaders. They haven’t given up 70 points in 11 consecutive games.
Offensively in C-USA play, Memphis ranks second with 75.4 points per game and first in field-goal shooting at 47.8 percent.
Robert Dozier has helped both of those averages in the last four games, shooting 60.4 percent and averaging 18.3 points. Dozier, who scored a career-high 23 points Wednesday, is shooting a team-best 51.2 percent this season while averaging 12.5 points - second on the team behind Tyreke Evans’ 16.8.
Since its buzzer-beating win over Tulsa on Jan. 13, Memphis has won its last six conference games by double digits.
The Golden Eagles (13-10, 3-6), meanwhile, have lost four straight with three of them coming by double digits, including an 88-72 defeat at Rice on Wednesday night. Southern Miss trailed by 17 at halftime and never got closer than nine in the second half.
They also dropped four in a row last season, but haven’t lost five straight since Feb. 11-March 1, 2006.
While Memphis has turned up its defense, the Golden Eagles have allowed 80.8 points per game during their losing streak. They have given up an average of 74.7 in league play - second-worst behind East Carolina’s 77.3.
Southern Miss has scored at least 72 points in four of its last five and got a season-high 23 from sophomore guard R.L. Horton on Wednesday. Senior guard Courtney Beasley added 13 for his 16th straight double-digit scoring performance.
Beasley, averaging 15.5 points, is fourth in conference play with 18.7 per game.
One of the few advantages the Golden Eagles appear to have Saturday is playing at Reed Green Coliseum, where they have won three of their past four.
Memphis had a tough challenge there last season as the nation’s second-ranked team, trailing midway through the second half in a 76-67 victory on March 1. Two weeks later - in the most recent meeting between the teams - the Tigers beat the Golden Eagles 69-53 to extend their win streak in the series to 10.
The Tigers have won 25 of their last 26 true road games.
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