- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008


The Memphis Tigers have no problems with high-flying dunks. They can knock down jumpers from anywhere on the floor, and most of the players are 3-point threats.

Put them at the free throw line, however, and something happens. The unguarded shot turns out to be most difficult indeed.

Not that coach John Calipari is worried. That 15-for-32 performance in his Tigers’ 77-74 second-round win over Mississippi State? Just a bad game.

Listen to him yesterday, though, and it’s clear he’s tired of critics pointing at his Tigers’ free throw struggles as the fatal flaw that will stop the top-seeded team in the South Region.

“It’s almost to the point of, ‘Do you really even know what my team does well or doesn’t do well?’ Or is it because you don’t know. You just say, ‘It’s free throw shooting. That’s all I’m going to talk about,’ ” Calipari said during a conference call.

Calipari said nobody is talking about the 11 shots his Tigers blocked or their five turnovers against a Mississippi State defense that ranked second in the country in field goal percentage defense. The Tigers are in rare company with UCLA as the only teams to reach the regional semifinals in each of the last three years.

“But everybody, all they want to talk about is our free throw shooting,” Calipari said. “I don’t know why. I come back to the conclusion that maybe they haven’t seen our team play nor do they really know and the easy thing to talk about off the stat sheet is our free throws. Maybe I’m wrong though.”

Memphis (35-1) will play No. 5 seed Michigan State (27-8) on Friday night in Houston in the regional semifinal.

The Tigers’ foul shooting woes are nothing new. They shot 62 percent as a team last season and 68.2 percent in 2005-06, a number that dipped to 59.6 percent this season — ranking 326 out of 328 Division I teams.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been watching the Tigers on film and said yesterday Memphis’ size and athleticism is unlike any other team the Spartans played this season. The Tigers’ ability to rebound and run remind Izzo of an attack led by former Spartans star Magic Johnson.

He said finding a weaknesses is difficult, although one area stood out. And what could that possibly be?

“They are struggling from the free throw line,” Izzo said. “That’s easy to say because everybody says that.”

Better shooting at the line could have helped the Tigers in their lone loss to Tennessee on Feb. 23. They were 8-for-17 at the line, hitting only three of nine in the second half of the 66-62 loss.

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