MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Josh Pastner's first game as a head coach in the NCAA tournament will be against his alma mater - Arizona.
The Tigers (25-9), seeded 12th in the West Region, will face the fifth-seeded Wildcats (27-7) on Friday in Tulsa, Okla. Pastner, who did not get much playing time during his playing days in Arizona from 1996 to 2000, but earned his scholarship as more of a coaching apprentice.
Pastner worked on Lute Olson's staff from the time he gradated until 2008, when he left to become an assistant at Memphis.
Freshman Will Barton, the Tigers' leading scorer, called it crazy.
"I told Coach on the way into the house, 'You know, I think we're going to get matched up against Arizona the first game.' We kind of laughed it off. But as soon as I saw Arizona pop up as a 5 seed, I said, 'They're calling Memphis (next),' and that's what happened," Barton said.
When Arizona was shown as the No. 5 seed, the buzz in Pastner's living room exploded when Memphis popped up on the television screen. Most eyes turned to Pastner, who averaged 0.9 points as an Arizona player. He laughingly boasts that Arizona was 42-0 in games in which he played because he only got in when they were way ahead.
"I think that's cool. That's neat," Pastner said of the matchup. "Arizona, obviously, is my alma mater, but I bleed blue and gray. It all worked out. I wore No. 12 when I was a player at Arizona, and we are the 12th seed going against Arizona."
Memphis will make its 23rd appearance in the NCAA tournament where the Tigers are 32-22. They reached the national title game in 1973 and 2008 before losing to UCLA and Kansas respectively. There was another Final Four appearance in 1985, and the Tigers were ousted in the regional final three other times.
The Tigers made four straight NCAA appearances from 2006-2009 during the John Calipari era. The 2009 run ended with a 102-91 loss to Missouri in a regional semifinal, and Calipari bolted days later for his current job at Kentucky.
Sunday's watch party at Pastner's home adjacent to the TPC Southwind golf course was different. These were not the Calipari days when the Tigers were lobbying for a No. 1 seed. And the atmosphere was much better than last year in Pastner's first season where Memphis' slim hopes of making the NCAA field fell short, and the Tigers settled for a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.
This time, Memphis assured itself of playing in the tournament by defeating Texas-El Paso 67-60 on Saturday for the Conference USA tournament crown and the league's automatic bid.
They didn't have to wait long as the West Region was the second to be unveiled in the national telecast.
Several players said they had seen Arizona play in late-night games, and many are familiar with 6-8 sophomore forward Derrick Williams, the Wildcat's leading scorer and rebounder with 19.1 points and 8.1 boards.
"It was a couple of nights ago, I saw Derrick Williams destroying somebody on ESPN," said freshman point guard Joe Jackson, the C-USA tournament most valuable player. "Every time I see the Arizona Wildcats, that's all I see is Derrick Williams. Obviously, we've got to create a plan to stop him."
Freshman forward Tarik Black said that while it was a return for Memphis to the tournament, it was the start of a new season. And he's not satisfied.
"I want to win it all. This is just a stepping stone to where I want to be at the end of the year," Black said.
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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)