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VOL. 127 | NO. 28 | Friday, February 10, 2012
Don Wade

Don Wade

Tigers’ Goal: Try To Sustain Winning Way

By Don Wade

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Sustainability is a big deal. Corporations talk about it. The federal government has a website for it. And no doubt right this moment, in one or more presidential campaigns, someone is talking about the sustainability of a platform or a poll number.

It is also the theme for the remainder of this Tigers basketball season, even if no one uses the “S” word.

When Memphis beat Xavier with huge contributions from Inconsistency’s favorite sons – Joe Jackson and Wesley Witherspoon – the Tigers stepped through a door of new possibilities.

No, this did not put them back in fantasyland – which is where they were at the start, with a Top 10 national ranking. But by rallying from an 11-point deficit against a legitimately good team in the last six minutes at FedExForum on Saturday, Feb. 4, there is now a plausible plotline that doesn’t end with weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (an NIT bid).

“We are not out of the woods,” said Tigers coach Josh Pastner. “We can see some light.”

That’s about right. There are still enough chances for the Tigers to stumble that winning the Conference USA Tournament (at FedExForum) again might become a necessity for making the NCAA Tournament. Right now, though, it feels like there’s a little breathing room.

Whether that continues to be the case will depend, in large part, on backup point guard Jackson and senior Witherspoon. Jackson was the best he had been all season against Xavier, going 12-for-12 from the free throw line (14 points total) and dishing out eight assists with three steals and just three turnovers.

“I gotta play like that every game,” he said afterward. “That’s got to be my average game.”

Actually, no. Pastner would happily take five assists with just one turnover and eight points, every single time. Witherspoon scored 12 against Xavier, hit two 3-pointers and grabbed a couple of “man rebounds,” in Pastner’s words. Pastner would happily take seven points and the toughness and renewed energy Witherspoon has flashed several times in recent games.

“We can’t be at extremes,” Pastner said. “You can be at a high level without being perfect.”

Perfection isn’t sustainable.

“Playing hard and playing smart,” said forward Tarik Black, “that’s our game plan throughout the rest of the season.”

Finally, and perhaps just in time, continuing to play like a good team is goal enough.

Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.

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