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March 28, 2008

Memphis sends message with easy victory

VIDEO: Memphis rolls | MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central

HOUSTONMemphis coach John Calipari spent much of the past week defending his team's free-throw shooting woes, pointing out that they excel in several other areas.

The top-seeded Tigers made that abundantly clear in the South Region semifinals, rolling to a 92-74 thrashing of No. 5 seed Michigan State on Friday night in front of 32,931 fans at Reliant Stadium. The Tigers have advanced to the regional final round for the third consecutive season and face No. 2 seed Texas on Sunday for the right to go to the Final Four.

Memphis dominated in every phase in the first half, jumping out to a 50-20 advantage. The Tigers had a remarkable 22-6 edge in rebounding and held the Spartans' leading scorers, Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel[/db], scoreless in the first 20 minutes.

"That was one of the best first halves of basketball I have ever been involved in," Calipari said. "I loved how disciplined we were, I loved our unselfishness, I loved our execution and more than anything I loved how we guarded.

"I was just proud to be part of it."

Memphis, which entered the game shooting 59 percent from the line, even shot its free throws well, knocking down 26 of 35 (74.3 percent).

"I just want to know what the knock on us is now," said Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was 11-for-12 from the line. "We wanted to prove we could make (free throws), and we made them."

Michigan State never was able to slow down freshman Derrick Rose (27 points) or Douglas-Roberts (25). The 92 points were the most the Spartans had allowed this season.

Rose started off the second half with two layups to push Memphis' lead to 54-20, but Michigan State steadily chipped away and cut it to 74-60 on a putback by Goran Suton with 4:46 remaining. But Memphis answered with a short jumper from reserve center Shawn Taggart and a three-point play from Rose to end any doubt about the outcome.

"That is a very prideful team with one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game," Calipari said. "We knew they weren't going to stop playing."

Suton finished with a season-high 23 points. Neitzel did not score until hitting two 3-pointers in the final 1:47.

Texas boasts quicker guards and a more athletic frontcourt than Michigan State, but also less depth. Calipari believes the Longhorns have an advantage, thanks to playing 160 miles from their campus. Friday's crowd at the Reliant Center was heavily made up of Longhorns fans.

"The pressure now shifts to Texas," Calipari said. "They have a marked advantage. You see this building and I would just as soon as play in Austin."

After seeing the way Memphis blasted Michigan State, nobody may want to play the Tigers right now, regardless of location.

VIDEO: Memphis rolls | MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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