Tigers Battle, But Come Up Short Against Louisville

By Don Wade

Losing is never good enough. And losing to Louisville never leaves a team from Memphis feeling as though the mission was accomplished.

Memphis guard Jeremiah Martin (3) goes to the basket past Louisville forward V.J. King (0) and forward Anas Mahmoud (14) during the second half of their game on Saturday, Dec. 16, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Louisville prevailed 81-72. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

That said, the Tigers pushed Louisville harder than many had expected before falling 91-82 Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

“The effort was there, but at the end of the day we lost,” said guard Jeremiah Martin, who led the Tigers with 26 points and nine rebounds.

But note this, too, from Martin: “I don’t think anyone was scared of the big stage.”

While the Tigers dropped to 7-3, this loss to a nationally relevant program did more to inspire hope about the rest of the season than anything that had happened to this point.

Coach Tubby Smith was so excited about what he saw from his team of mostly junior college transfers and freshmen, so struck with optimism, that he said Louisville is the “type of team we’re going to run into in postseason play.”

As tough-minded as the Tigers showed themselves to be – they played hard from tip-off to final horn – they were also overwhelmed at times by the Cardinals’ length and athleticism. Louisville blocked 14 shots, half of the blocks courtesy of center Anas Mahmoud. The Cardinals also hit 14 of 26 threes for 53.8 percent, five of the triples coming from Deng Adel.

The Tigers also persisted in having more turnovers than assists, a season-long problem. This time they finished with 12 turnovers to 10 assists.

Martin not only led Memphis in scoring and rebounding but had three assists, three steals and two blocks. He played 38 minutes. And those moments when he wasn’t on the floor, the Tigers looked lost.

Jimario Rivers had the highlight of the game when he slammed home a one-handed dunk over Mahmoud. But Rivers left the game early in the second half with a possible concussion (Smith said postgame that Rivers was going to be fine).

Forward Kyvon Davenport showed well with 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. And forward Mike Parks Jr. had some nice moments while scoring eight points with seven rebounds in 31 minutes.

The Tigers missed many point-blank shots, which Smith said was because of all the blocks.

“That’s what an athletic team that can block shots will do,” he said. “They can sort of intimidate you at the rim.”

The Tigers return to action with a 7 p.m. game vs. Sienna on Wednesday at FedExForum.

Gasol Stays Optimistic About Season

The Grizzlies (9-21) split a pair of home games this weekend, edging the hapless Atlanta Hawks by two points Friday night and then losing to the Boston Celtics (25-7) by a score of 102-93 Saturday night.

The victory over Atlanta stopped a five-game losing streak, but the Grizzlies still have lost 17 of their last 19 games.

Center Marc Gasol, who had a double-double with 30 points and 10 rebounds against the Celtics said he wasn’t in a panic about the Grizzlies’ record and the long climb it would take to reach the playoffs.

“I don’t work that way,” he said. “Every morning, I take my positive vitamins and do my Zen or yoga, whatever I need to do to block everything out and try to do my job as best I can. I need to be better in order for these guys to have confidence. That’s all my focus is. I don’t think about records.”

Cardinals Caravan in Memphis Jan. 12

The annual Cardinals Caravan will stop at AutoZone Park on Friday, Jan. 12, at 6:30 p.m. The St. Louis Cardinals and Memphis Redbirds are yet to announce the current and former Cardinals players that will be attendance.

The Cardinals have been busy in the offseason, most notably trading for Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. They also signed free agent relief pitcher Luke Gregerson and traded outfielder Stephen Piscotty to Oakland for two infielders, and sent shortstop Aledmys Diaz (a 2015 National League All-Star as a rookie) to Toronto for outfielder J.B. Woodman.

Ozuna batted .312 with 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in and the Cardinals are counting on him to be the big bat they’ve lacked in the middle of the order. Gregerson filled a set-up role for Houston last season, but he saved 31 games in 2015 and 15 games in 2016 and is being looked to fill the closer void for St. Louis.