Southern Miss.-Memphis Preview

The Associated Press

Memphis is looking to depart Conference USA with another championship, and an unbeaten record.

Southern Mississippi will try to spoil the going-away party as it attempts to win its first tournament title in 22 years.

Chris Crawford tries to build on the best performance of his career while helping the 20th-ranked Tigers add to their trophy haul by continuing their dominance of the second-seeded Golden Eagles on Saturday morning.

Top-seeded Memphis (29-4) is leaving C-USA for the Big East next season, and the team is trying to do it in memorable fashion. The Tigers have won 25 straight conference games, dating to a loss to UTEP on Feb. 18, 2012.

That tremendous run includes winning 16 C-USA games during the regular season, and they've cruised to a seventh tournament final in eight years, dispatching Tulane 81-68 on Thursday before ousting Tulsa 85-74 a day later.

That Friday night finish presents a quick turnaround for this 10:35 a.m. tip-off for Memphis, which has won six of the last seven conference tournaments, vacating the 2008 title.

It would seem the Tigers are in good position to add one last C-USA championship since they've won 20 of the past 21 meetings with Southern Miss (25-8). Memphis scored 89 points in both matchups this year, including a 16-point home victory Feb. 23 to sweep the two-game season series.

Crawford had 19 points in that game and has averaged 19.3 in the last three meetings, going 14 of 26 from 3-point range.

The conference's Sixth Man of the Year is 19 for 33 from beyond the arc over the last three games while averaging 24.7 points. He turned in his best performance Friday, getting career highs of 30 points and eight 3s against Tulsa.

"I have tremendous confidence in Chris. I have so much confidence in the guy that when he makes a mistake defensively or he makes a mistake offensively, I'm surprised," coach Josh Pastner said. "I get frustrated because I just expect perfection from him. That's the level that I hold him to."

Joe Jackson, the team leader with 13.4 points per game, experienced a different kind of perfection against the Golden Hurricane. He failed to register a point, missing five field-goal attempts, after scoring 15 in the tournament opener.

While Memphis attempts to leave C-USA in style, the Golden Eagles are looking for their first league tournament title since winning the Metro Conference in 1990 and '91.

Doing so would assure them of reaching a second consecutive NCAA tournament after losing in the first round last year.

Coach Donnie Tyndall realizes getting past Memphis will be a tall order.

"They are one of the 10 most talented teams in college basketball," he said. "We are probably going to have to play the best that we have played all year long to win a conference title and get that automatic berth."

Southern Miss reached the title game by beating UTEP 85-67 on Friday, a day after eliminating UAB 81-66.

"When you think about 12 conference wins, we broke a school record in C-USA, 25th win (Friday) ties a record for the school and to get to the title game for the first time in the history of the program," Tyndall said. "A lot of great things are going on in our program."

Dwayne Davis is playing a big part, averaging 29.0 points on 64.4 percent shooting - 16 of 25 from behind the arc - over the last four games. The senior guard connected on 9 of 13 from the field to finish with 27 points Friday.

He's totaled 53 points in two meetings with Memphis this season.

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