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VOL. 129 | NO. 51 | Friday, March 14, 2014

Timid Play Knocks Tigers Out of Tourney

By Don Wade

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Memphis coach Josh Pastner admitted the loss was “embarrassing.”

Senior guard Geron Johnson said, “I’m disgusted with myself,” and vowed not to watch the rest of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at FedExForum that continues with the semifinals Friday, March 14, without the Tigers.

Even the tournament’s host doesn’t get to play anymore after losing to Connecticut 72-53 in Thursday night’s quarterfinals to make UConn a perfect 3-0 against the Tigers this season and 2-0 on their home floor.

But lest anyone think otherwise, AAC Player of the Year and UConn guard Shabazz Napier set everyone straight on the notion that some sort of magic takes place when the Huskies step foot inside FedExForum.

“I don’t think it’s the building,” Napier said. “I think it’s the way they play defense. They double a lot and leave shooters open. And we’re not afraid to pass the ball.”

The shooter they continually left open Thursday night was senior forward Niels Giffey. His previous career high in points was 16. He scored 24, knocking down six of eight threes. But this should not have been a total surprise. He was shooting 50 percent from 3-point range for the year, having hit 44 of 88 shots.

Giffey had only started seven of the UConn’s previous 31 games and only played 11 minutes in the last regular-season game. But coach Kevin Ollie started him against the Tigers with great intent.

“I wanted to get Niels out there to space the floor,” Ollie said. “Niels made me look like I was a good coach. So thank you, Niels.”

The No. 21 Huskies (25-7) now meet No. 13 Cincinnati in one semifinal at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday. The No. 5 Louisville Cardinals (27-5) play Houston (17-15) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m.

But Tiger fans, who probably won’t be attending these games in large numbers, have other concerns. With the team clearly playing for its NCAA seed, not to mention the pride of defending its home court and trying to win a conference tournament title in what Pastner himself has called a “big-boy league,” they were at their worst.

They shot a season-low 26.4 percent from the floor. They hit just 54.1 percent of their free throws (20 of 37). They made a season-low six assists (the four senior guards combined for three assists) and a season-low 14 field goals.

Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford were the leading scorers with 10 points each. One day after Michael Dixon Jr. won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, he went 0-for-7 and scored one point. And one day after freshman forward Austin Nichols was recognized as the AAC’s Rookie of the Year, he had more turnovers (four) than points (three).

“We stunk,” Pastner said, adding, “I thought in the first half we played not to lose. We played timid.”

Freshman forward Nick King (nine points and five rebounds off the bench) rejected the idea that the Tigers just can’t match up with UConn.

“UConn’s a good team, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But it’s on us. We had too many mental breakdowns on defense and we couldn’t knock down shots.”

Selection Sunday is March 16, so the Tigers soon will find out how much this game hurt them.

“Second season, conference tournament, we grade ourselves an ‘F,’” Pastner said. “So to balance it out and leave a good impression, we need to win two next week (in the NCAA Tournament). Not just one, but we need to win two.”

Said Johnson: “We will win two games next week. That’s what I’m going to say. I got faith in my team. We can play with anybody in the country.”

Just not in the quarterfinals of the 2014 AAC Tournament on their home floor.

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