John Calipari said early this week there's no such thing as a cake walk on the road. It turned out to be a prophecy for his 3rd ranked Tigers as Rice takes them to the wire tonight. Memphis escaped with an 84-79 win but not without a battle. Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 21 points and Darius Washington, Jr. sank two free throws in the final seconds to help No. 3 Memphis stay unbeaten in Conference USA.
Rodney Carney added 13 points for the Tigers (21-2, 7-0), who have won 10 straight games. Morris Almond scored 30 and J.R. Harrison added 20 for the Owls (9-11, 3-4), who have lost four of their last five. The Tigers went 9-for-31 from 3-point range (29 percent) and struggled most of the game with the Owls' sticky zone defense. Memphis missed 11 of its first 18 shots and trailed 17-15 after Almond's free throws with 12:03 left in the opening half. Almond went 11-for-13 from the line in the game. Washington missed a dunk a few minutes later, drawing jeers from the small, rowdy crowd. Before the game, the students waved tissues at Washington, mocking his tearful reaction to the free throws he missed at the end of last year's Conference USA championship. The Tigers' first-half frustrations spilled over to Coach John Calipari, who got a technical for protesting a no-call on an apparent moving screen. Almond sank the resulting free throws, giving Rice a 31-30 lead with 5:47 left before the break. Memphis closed the half with an 11-6 burst as the Owls committed three unforced turnovers during the run. Joey Dorsey dunked 45 seconds into the second half to start a 12-5 Memphis spurt. The Tigers scored on their first five second-half possessions and went up 58-46 - their first double-digit lead - after Douglas-Roberts' 3-pointer from the wing with 16:45 left. The lead bulged to 15 before the Owls mounted one final surge. Dunks by Harrison and Patrick Britton started a 16-4 spurt and Harrison's turnaround with 2:04 left cut the Tigers' lead to 78-75. Memphis went the final eight minutes without a field goal, missing open shots and coughing up careless turnovers.
The Tigers only hung onto their lead by going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line during Rice's charge. Shawne Williams sank two free throws with 1:51 left to put the Tigers up 80-75 and neither team scored on tense possessions over the next minute. Almond swished a jumper from the free-throw line with 32.9 seconds left to keep the Owls within three. Washington then went to the line with 25.4 seconds left and calmly made two free throws amid more tissue-waving and chants of "Cry-baby! Cry-baby!" from the raucous student section. Washington missed 2 of 3 free throws with no time left in last year's Conference-USA championship and the Tigers lost to Louisville 75-74. Washington collapsed to the court in tears after his misses. Memphis and Rice were playing for just the third time. The Tigers won the previous two meetings, both in the 1960s.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)