OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Rodney Carney counts on his first dunk of a game igniting his teammates' intensity. He dunked all right, he jumped in the passing lanes on defense, and Carney kept top-seeded Memphis from becoming another victim of Bradley's surprising NCAA run. Carney contributed on both ends of the floor Thursday, scoring 23 points and leading a stingy defense that gave Memphis an 80-64 victory and put the Tigers in the regional final for the first time since 1992 - back when Anfernee Hardaway was their star. "That's what my dunks do," said Carney, who added three steals. "I spark the team with run-through dunks. It gives the team intensity. I want to dunk on 7-foot guys." Darius Washington Jr. added 18 points and Shawne
Williams had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as Memphis won the third round of the Oakland Regional for its seventh straight victory. Carney raised his arms in the air in celebration after a two-handed jam midway through the second half, one of several emphatic dunks by the 6-foot-7 forward who was virtually unknown when he first arrived at Memphis. Now, he is one win from finishing his stellar collegiate career in his hometown of Indianapolis for the Final Four. Coach John Calipari's young Tigers (33-3), an NIT team last season, advanced to Saturday's regional final against the winner of Thursday's late game between second-seeded UCLA and No. 3 Gonzaga. The Tigers beat both those teams early this season.
"We really guarded. We rebounded in the second half, and my stars were stars - all three of them," Calipari said. "We're pretty good when that happens. ... Your senior better do his thing, and he's doing it." Patrick O'Bryant had 11 of his 14 rebounds in the first half and only scored eight points for Bradley (22-11), which at No. 13 was the lowest seed still alive in the tournament. The Braves will return home to another hero's welcome after they turned the program into a household name and brought national attention to the town of Peoria, Ill., where they play. "I think we put Bradley basketball back on the map," O'Bryant said. The Braves had been the NCAA spoiler so far after beating Kansas and Pittsburgh to reach their first regional semifinal since 1955 when it was 24-team tournament, but they began the second half 4-for-16 and struggled to get open looks at the basket against speedy, aggressive Memphis. The Tigers took Bradley right out of its preferred half-court offense. "They wanted to run, and we run," Washington said. "That's Memphis basketball." Bradley committed 14 first-half turnovers, then took better care of the ball after halftime but couldn't make shots. Coach Jim Les was whistled for a technical with 8:29 remaining for arguing, a sign of his team's frustration down the stretch. After the Braves cut the lead to seven with 12:25 left, Williams hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to start a 7-0 Memphis run that also featured Carney's dazzling dunk.
"There's a reason why they're the (fourth)-ranked team in the country and a No. 1 seed," Les said. "We needed to play our 'A' game and we didn't play our 'A' game because of what they do and how they play." The 7-foot O'Bryant faced two or three defenders almost every time he caught the ball in the paint. Marcellus Sommerville led Bradley with 18 points - making nine of 10 free throws - and eight rebounds and Lawrence Wright added 14 points. Memphis forward Joey Dorsey picked up a technical, his seventh of the season, with 16:27 remaining after jawing with Wright. Dorsey's teammates were furious with his lack of composure and got in his face to let him know it. Sommerville hit both free throws to pull Bradley within 42-35. The Tigers weren't about to let one guy bring them down. This postseason is redemption of sorts for this squad boasting four freshmen and three sophomore regulars. A year ago, with Memphis down by two to Louisville in the Conference USA tournament championship game, Washington got fouled shooting a 3-pointer as the final buzzer sounded. Alone at the line, he had a chance to win the game by making all three free throws. He hit the first and missed the next two, then fell to the floor in heartbreak as the Tigers' NCAA hopes slipped away.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)