- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

MEMPHIS, TENN. (AP) - Memphis coach John Calipari feels he and his fourth-ranked Tigers escaped the upsets that knocked off three of the nation’s top teams Thursday night.

And he hopes a sloppy win over Tulane helped get the Tigers’ poor play out of their own system.

Shawn Taggart scored 19 points, and Memphis extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 23 straight by holding off Tulane 51-41 in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament in the Tigers’ lowest scoring game this season.

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“Thank God we’re a good defensive team. This was a loss waiting to happen,” Calipari said.

The Tigers (29-3) are trying to add a fourth straight tournament championship to their fourth regular-season title in a row, and playing on their home floor helped them push their C-USA winning streak to 59 straight games overall.

That could help clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for last season’s runner-up, especially with No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 11 Kansas all losing.

“It’s about winning and marching on,” Calipari said. “This was ugly. It didn’t look like us, but I want to give credit to Tulane. They were ready for us. They knew they could play us. They played us good last time. It’s not just us. It was them. They did a good job.”

The only hope Tulane (14-17) had of reaching the NCAA tournament came through winning the league’s automatic bid as tournament champ despite not beating the Tigers in Memphis since 1992. Tulane led 32-28 after Robinson Louisme’s dunk with 16:45 but didn’t score another field goal until Kris Richard’s jumper with 49.2 seconds left.

“If the game was the first one to 32, we would’ve won,” Tulane coach Dave Dickerson said, trying to joke. “We stayed on 32 for about 13 minutes.”

By then, it was too late.

Tyreke Evans scored all 16 points in the second half with his first 12 starting an 18-0 run as Memphis grabbed the lead for good and put away Tulane for a fourth straight tournament.

The Tigers will play either UTEP or Houston in the semifinals Friday.

Louisme finished with 10 points.

This being the second game within six days between the teams may have helped the Green Wave who didn’t back down from Memphis early despite losing here last Saturday 74-47 in the regular season finale. The Tigers seemed a bit tired and a sloppy for chunks of the game.

But Evans, picked as the league’s freshman of the year earlier in the week and the only freshman finalist for the John R. Wooden Award for player of the year, got going a few minutes into the second half. He had missed his first five shots, including a 3 within the opening minute of the second half that fell well short of the rim.

He finally scored on a layup with 15:47 left _ the first of his 10 straight points that put Memphis ahead to stay.

Evans tied it at 32 with a baseline layup, then he stole the ball and dunked to put them ahead to stay. Evans missed a shot, then twisted and tipped it in. He followed that with a miss, Dozier tipped it out and Evans got the rebound and scored for a 38-32 margin. At one point, Evans had 12 of Memphis’ 15 points in the half.

“They did a good job of getting the ball to me in the post, and I made a couple baskets to get us ahead,” Evans said. “I picked it up the second half. I didn’t do a good job the first half.”

The Tigers also forced three turnovers during that stretch including a 5-second call on Tulane’s inbound attempt and Asim McQueen missed a 3 trying to beat the shot clock that was way left of the basket.

“Memphis had a lot to do with that,” Dickerson said. “They’re long. They’re athletic, and they just put a shield over the basket. … If you can’t score against them, you won’t beat them and no one has scored consistently against them this year.”

Memphis led 26-24 after a first half in which Tulane led as much as five a couple times, the last at 17-12 on a pair of Johnny Mayhane free throws. Calipari credited Taggart with keeping the Tigers in the game.

Robert Dozier started a 12-3 run that included the Tigers’ lone 3 of the first half from Doneal Mack, then Taggart took over. Taggart, who hit 6-of-7 from the floor in the first half, hit a free throw, then scored again for a 22-18 lead. He finished the half with a dunk, then two free throws with 2:05 left for the Tigers’ final points of the half.

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