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Tigers know they belong

April 06, 2008|Mike Hiserman | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- These Memphis Tigers, they smile a lot.

And laugh. And smirk. And shoot glances at each other as if they know something no one else in the room knows.

Maybe they do.

When you see it most is when they're asked about being here at the NCAA Final Four with college basketball's blue bloods.

Well, UCLA's 11 national championships didn't mean a lick Saturday night at the Alamodome once Derrick Rose started driving, Chris Douglas-Roberts started twisting and shooting and Joey Dorsey started pounding.

Afterward, Rose, a freshman guard who can expect to go very early in the next NBA draft, was asked when he reached a comfort zone against Darren Collison, the UCLA junior who Bruins Coach Ben Howland had called college basketball's best on-ball defender.

Rose for a second looked confused. Get comfortable. He was just playing basketball. That was comfort.

"I just went out and tried to stay aggressive," he said time and again as waves of reporters made their way through the Tigers' locker room.

Earlier, in the media hall, Rose had said it hadn't "hit me yet that we won the game. But going into the game we knew that we was gonna win, so. . . . Ain't too much to say."

Laugh, smirk, glances traded with Douglas-Roberts and Dorsey sitting to one side of him.

No disrespect, just confidence bordering on arrogance.

All well-earned.

Douglas-Roberts had 28 points, Rose 25 points, Dorsey a game-high 15 rebounds plus 27 minutes' worth of tough defense on UCLA's Kevin Love.

Love had two points in the second half, accomplished, Dorsey said, by "disrupting him, making it hard for him to catch the ball . . . running little double-teams at him so he can't pass the ball."

It worked the way Calipari might have drawn it up. Love, the best-passing big man the college game has seen since Bill Walton, according to many observers, had one assist.

Calipari afterward laughed some and smirked a little too.

Someone mentioned that a Times columnist in Saturday's paper had insinuated that his team was merely a collection of great talent while UCLA was better prepared. It had been called "a coaching mismatch," and Calipari didn't even wait until the end of the question before he blurted, "I don't think Ben is that bad. I respect Ben and think he's a heck of a coach."

He tried to deadpan it but quickly broke into a wide grin.

He was more serious when he spoke about his Tigers .

"I've got a good team," he said. "Got a good team of players that play together, take care of the ball, rebound. Got a good team."

That team is 38-1 and will take on Kansas on Monday in the national championship game. Between now and then Calipari and his players will surely be asked about Kansas' talented backcourt and active big men -- just as they were asked about UCLA's guard tandem of Collison and Russell Westbrook and, of course, Love.

Only Westbrook had a good game Saturday, finishing with a career-high 22 points and looking like the only Bruins player capable of physically staying with the high-flying Tigers. Collison had two points, four assists and five turnovers. Love was four for 11 shooting.

All of which left Memphis players working hard to be respectful afterward, when you sensed what they really wanted to do was call, "Next!"

Douglas-Roberts was asked how UCLA's guards compared with the best the Tigers had seen this season.

"Hey, they're all good players," he said. "Collison is good. Westbrook is good . . . [Texas'] D.J. Augustin, he's a really good player . . ."

OK, but had he seen a backcourt so far this season that was as good as the one he saw every day in practice.

"Nope," he quickly said. Then, "Shhh. That's a secret."

Not anymore.


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