Memphis breaks Aggies' hearts

Posted: March 23, 2007

SAN ANTONIO - So, you say you need tickets to tomorrow's NCAA South Regional final? Well, it shouldn't really be a problem. At least not anymore. Just like that, there are plenty of good sections available. All you have to do is stop one of those 25,000 or so Texas A & M fans who will undoubtedly be making the drive back to College Station sooner than expected, wondering where it all went wrong.

This was supposed to be their moment. In the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1980, and only the second time in program history, the Aggies had the home-state advantage last night at the Alamodome. Didn't matter. Because higher-seeded yet slight underdog Memphis did most of the things it needed to do, especially when it needed to the most. And the Tigers, on the strength of two free throws by Antonio Anderson with 3.1 seconds left, won their 25th straight, 65-64. They will now move on to play top-ranked Ohio State for the right to move on to Atlanta next weekend.

"It was a really hard-fought game, by two teams playing out of desperation at the end," said Memphis coach John Calipari, whose name has already emerged, not shockingly, as one of the top candidates for the newly vacant position at Kentucky. "We just did what we had to do. We were in ridiculous foul trouble, we played guys that we hadn't played all year. We were just trying to hang around.

"We made a couple of baskets, got a couple of rebounds, made a couple of foul shots . . . It was incredible. The fact that we did it in [this environment] just makes it even more amazing."

Neither side ever gained control of the game. The lead changed hands four times in the final 6-plus minutes. A driving bucket by Chris Douglas-Roberts with just more than 3 minutes remaining tied it at 63-63. It stayed the way until Josh Carter, an 81 percent foul shooter, made one of two free throws at 1:50 to put Texas A & M (26-8) back in front for what turned out to be the last time.

With 45 seconds to go, Acie Law IV had a chance to make it a three-point game when he took a long inbounds pass and went in for a semicontested layup. But he missed, and Memphis (33-3) was still very much breathing.

Jeremy Hunt missed a trey, but the Tigers got the rebound and called timeout with 25 seconds showing. They then got another trey from Andre Allen, which also bounced long off the iron. Hunt got the ball and tried a 12-footer from the left baseline. No good. Robert Dozier got another follow and put up a 5-footer from the left baseline. Again, no good. But Anderson somehow grabbed the board went up hard to the rim and got hacked. And everything was up to him.

He swished the first foul shot. After an A & M timeout, he swished another. Did we mention that he converts freebies at 64 percent?

"Being a basketball player, you look for situations like that," Anderson said. "You want the game in your hands. That's the mentality you need to have as a competitor.

"We were tired. Both teams were beat down. We needed to get it over with. So I knocked them down. That's just how it was."

But what's a big-time finish without a little dose of controversy?

The inbounds pass went off a Memphis player in front of the Tigers' bench. So it was still A & M's possession, about 30 feet up the floor. Problem was, no time had run off the clock, which is a no-no, as coach Cal was only too happy to point out to the officials. So the three striped shirts convened in front of a TV monitor to determine just how much time should have come off. The whistle isn't supposed to blow until the ball hits something out of bounds. After a few minutes, the clock was reset to an even 2 seconds. It seemed about right, even though the maroon wave in the stands didn't agree. Could you blame them? Their dream was about to expire, and there really wasn't much anyone could do about it.

The Aggies at least managed to get a decent look. Joseph Jones, with nobody guarding him, threw it to Dominique Kirk, who took it in full stride near midcourt, took a couple of dribbles and let one fly from about 35 feet straightaway. It had the right distance but went wide left.

It was a tough way to go down, particularly in this venue. Who knows when the program, which failed to win one Big 12 game three seasons ago, will have another opportunity like this?

"[Our fans] helped us win a lot of games throughout the year," coach Billy Gillespie said. "They did a good job tonight. We fell a little short doing ours. It's sad we let them down. I would like to have played one more time. We didn't finish enough plays to win."

Last March, Memphis was a top seed but lost in the West Regional final to No. 2 seed UCLA in Oakland. Then it lost a bunch of key components. So Calipari went out and got some new ones, and some of what used to be the supporting cast assumed bigger roles. And here the Tigers are, once again, one game away from taking their coach back to the Final Four.

Douglas-Roberts, who injured his ankle in last Sunday's second round, played 37 minutes and scored 15 points, his average. Hunt had 19 in 26 minutes off the bench.

Antanas Kavaliauskas, one of two non-Texans on the A & M roster (Marlon Pompey is from Toronto), led three Aggie double-digit scorers with 17. Law had 13, but took 17 shots and had only had one assist.

It's not often that the Aggies shoot 47.5 percent from the field and lose. But they missed five of 10 at the line. And Memphis got there 21 times, making 14, which isn't supposed to happen on the road. *

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