Aggies play down their home edge

Events on the court and not in the stands will determine their fate, coach Billy Gillispie said.

Posted: March 22, 2007

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - This year's only NCAA Sweet 16 matchup between top-10 teams takes place tonight at the Alamodome: fifth-ranked Memphis, the second seed in the South Region, against ninth-ranked Texas A&M, the third seed.

Memphis is looking for validation that its 32-3 record isn't just a figment of a Conference USA schedule.

Texas A&M is looking to make it to the final eight of the tournament for the first time in the school's history.

The Aggies have the biggest star in point guard Acie Law IV - unless you count Memphis coach John Calipari, who was at the Final Four with Massachusetts in 1996.

After playing Louisville in Kentucky last week, the table turns for Texas A&M this time, with Aggies fans expected to flood the place.

"I hope they talk about it being the greatest home-court advantage in the history of college basketball," Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. "But we have to play against a really talented, well-coached team, and that's going to determine the outcome of the game, not the crowd."

"Man up or go home," Calipari said he told his players. "That's what this will be about. . . . If you're not sturdy, you're going to be pushed right into the cheerleaders. You're going to have a pom-pom in your hand pretty fast."

Although his squad is the higher seed, Calipari didn't mind suggesting that maybe the pressure should be on the Aggies.

"It's a disadvantage, there's no question," Calipari said of playing in Texas. "They're going to have 30,000 fans here. But I've been in this situation [on the other side] before, too. There's another side of it.

"The most pressure I've ever felt as a coach - not even close - was [at UMass] playing Boston College on a neutral court. We had 75 percent of the fans. We were supposed to win the game. . . . I woke up at 2 in the morning, 4 in the morning, 6 in the morning. It's the most pressure I've ever felt as a coach.

"I'm talking [playing] Kentucky in the Final Four, Elite Eight games, Chicago Bulls in the playoffs - the most pressure I've ever felt was that game."

For the second game here, between top-seeded Ohio State and fifth-seeded Tennessee, the pressure will clearly be on the Buckeyes, who barely survived their encounter last weekend with Xavier.

Freshman center Greg Oden will get the headlines, but the game also will feature great guard play. Senior Ron Lewis and freshman Michael Conley Jr. carried the Buckeyes through the second round. Volunteers junior Chris Lofton was named the Southeastern Conference player of the year by the media.

"I think that we've got a unique situation here because we're playing a team that we played in January," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

On Jan. 13, the Buckeyes won, 68-66, in Columbus, Ohio. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl keeps saying that Ohio State has changed immensely since then, as Oden has assimilated into the team after sitting out the first month because of wrist surgery.

"We played our cards," Pearl said. "We showed our hand."

Matta probably isn't buying that, but thinks that facing Tennessee's full-court pressure has to help his team prepare.

"Through the Big Ten season, we don't see a lot of pressing, gambling type of defenses," Matta said.


South Regional

At the Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas.

Texas A&M (27-6) vs. Memphis (32-3), 7:27 p.m.

Ohio State (32-3) vs. Tennessee (24-10),

30 minutes after the first

game. TV: CBS3.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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