Date story published: Thursday, November 23, 2006
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- After an 80-63 loss to No. 12 Memphis yesterday, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said his team "hit a wall."
To which, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas wryly noted, "Must have been a big wall."
It measured 22 by 4. Memphis outscored Kentucky by that margin during a decisive eight-minute stretch of the second half. Suddenly a 51-46 deficit became a crushing 73-50 margin.
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Memphis (3-1) dominated the statistics, especially in the second half when UK made 34.6 percent of its shots (to the opposition's 59.3 percent), as the Tigers cruised to a third-place finish in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Both sides referred to Tuesday's semifinals in explaining UK's most lopsided loss since the 73-46 debacle at Kansas last Jan. 7.
The Cats fought fiercely in overcoming an early 17-point deficit before losing to No. 5 UCLA 73-68 in a game that ended barely 16 hours earlier. Then came Memphis as UK's fifth opponent in eight days.
"It looked like we kind of hit the wall there in the second half," said Smith, who credited Memphis with being quicker and faster. He could have thrown in more athletic and skilled, too.
"We're not making excuses," the UK coach said. "But I thought that's what hit us there for a while."
Memphis Coach John Calipari concurred.
"I'm going to be honest," he said. "They may have been spent."
Randolph Morris, who led UK with 18 points, acknowledged fatigue. "It definitely had an effect on my play," he said.
If Kentucky was tired, Memphis had the athletes and skill to exploit it. Smith called the Tigers "probably the worst matchup we could have had."
After taking a 4-3 lead with 15:52 left in the first half, Memphis trailed for a total of 44 seconds the rest of the way.
Kentucky was within 51-46 when Memphis dropped the hammer over the next eight minutes. In that ruinous stretch, Kentucky made two of 11 shots and committed four turnovers. Memphis hit nine of 11 shots. Eight of those baskets came in the paint.
Repeatedly, the Tigers drove to the basket and finished with 44 points in the paint. That meant UK's opponents in the Maui Invitational scored 146 points in the paint.
It didn't help any that Memphis gears its offense to high-percentage shots near the basket.
"We love layups," Calipari said. "We like threes, but we love layups and post-ups."
The Memphis coach noted how his offense is designed to spread the court, force one-on-one defense and then ruthlessly pick on the weakest defender and/or best matchup.
"That is how we built this team," Calipari said. "We hope (to be quicker) at some position. It may not be every one. It may be one or two positions. And we'll try to exploit those positions."
Exploitation was never so explosive than midway through the run. Two thunderous dunks by Memphis' 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Joey Dorsey, each drenched with we're-better-than-you authority, settled matters. On the first, he overpowered Morris in the low post. On the second, he took a fast-break pass and soared over a helpless Joe Crawford.
Those dunks also harkened back to Memphis' semifinal game. The Tigers led Georgia Tech by 19 points in the first half.
Then Tech rallied to a 92-85 victory.
"We just got after them," said 6-foot-9 forward Robert Dozier, who led Memphis with 15 points against UK. "We put our hands together and said, 'This is the final seven or eight minutes, y'all. We have to go get them. We can't stand back and let them come back like we did yesterday."
After the 22-4 run built a 73-50 lead with 8:21 left, Kentucky got no closer than 16.
"We went south for 20 minutes," Calipari said of the collapse against Georgia Tech, "and I wanted to know, were they tough enough? Did they have the character? Could they come back? Would they do it together?
"You know what? It was a resounding yes!"
Now Kentucky will ask similar questions.