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VOL. 129 | NO. 34 | Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tigers Pledge Focus With Lesser Foes on Tap

By Don Wade

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Absorb nothing. Or as players such as Tigers guard Chris Crawford like to say, don’t let it “soak.” Meaning win or lose, don’t dwell on it.

Forward David Pellom is still bothered by his hurt knee, but it hasn’t been too much to keep him from practicing. He and the Tigers prep for Thursday’s game at Rutgers.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“Move on from it,” Crawford said. “We’re just worried about the next game on the schedule.”

Yes, it has an echo of coach-speak to it. But also truth and wisdom. Nothing to be done about the 86-81 overtime loss at Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 15, and the home win over then-No. 23 Gonzaga is now just so much ancient history.

The No. 22 Tigers – they dropped two spots in the Associated Press poll – are 19-6 overall, 8-4 in the American Athletic Conference. So far, they own a resume devoid of any embarrassments. Which is why there is a renewed focus on not slipping up in the next three games: Thursday at Rutgers (4-9 in the AAC), Saturday at home vs. Temple (2-10) and Feb. 27 at Houston (4-8).

It matters not that when Rutgers came to FedExForum, the Tigers won 101-69. The Tigers pledge they will be focused.

“It’d probably be more difficult if we got the win at UConn,” guard Geron Johnson said. “But we’re in desperation mode. We’ve got no option but to get a win.”

Because the Tigers’ four losses within the AAC have been to teams that were either ranked at the time or entered the rankings shortly thereafter, voters have given Memphis credit for the level of competition. The theory is that, in a few weeks, the people handing out seeds in the NCAA Tournament will do the same.

It’s not that every loss has been close, because that’s not the case. The Tigers lost by 16 at home to Cincinnati, by 10 at home to UConn, and by 15 at SMU. They gave up runs to Gonzaga, but found a way to rally and win. And they were nothing if not gritty in the loss at UConn, never letting the home team pull away.

The other team’s runs “didn’t avalanche,” coach Josh Pastner said.

“It’s all about adversity,” Crawford said. “We’ve been through a lot as a unit and know how not to fold.”

David Pellom injury update: The senior forward’s troublesome knee still hurts, but he made the decision to override doctors’ orders (suggestions?) and practice between games.

“I feel better when I practice,” he said, adding that his pain isn’t anything that some post-game ice can’t remedy.

Dominic Woodson suspension update: Woodson, a freshman forward/center did not travel to Connecticut. He won’t make the Rutgers trip either. Pastner had suspended Woodson “indefinitely” for cursing on the bench.

“For someone to change,” Pastner said, “you gotta feel some pain.”

Pastner said Woodson had apologized to him and that, overall, “he’s made a lot of strides from where he was on day one.” The coach also said he realizes his rules about cursing are hardly the norm in college basketball.

“Many Hall-of-Fame coaches use a lot different language and have been very successful,” Pastner said. “I’m not comfortable around it; there’s no need for it. I just believe it takes great self-control not to use those words, especially when you’re angry.”

The Tigers’ 17.8 assists per game ranks third in the country. Their 9.08 steals ranks sixth in the nation. Their 48.3 field-goal percentage ranks 19th and their 79.7 points per game places them 28th nationally.

Their 65.4 free-throw percentage, however, ranks 306th out of 345 Division 1 teams. Their 33.9 3-point percentage places them 185th nationally.

The Tigers are 25th in defensive 3-point field-goal percentage, as opponents are shooting just 30.2 percent behind the arc.

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