|ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball||[Print without images]|
NEW YORK -- Memphis coach John Calipari has his mantra of wanting to play anybody, anytime.
He did it at UMass, getting plenty of pops at No. 1 teams in the mid-'90s and culminating with a trip to the 1996 Final Four.
But Duke. No shot. Never happened, that is, until now.
"I've never coached against them," Calipari said of going against Duke Friday night in the NIT Season Tip-Off finals at Madison Square Garden.
"Duke doesn't play road games [rarely true road games unless part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge] but you may get them on a neutral court," Calipari said. "I have great respect for them and their program. And the greatest thing for us and for them is that it's only November. It's only big for whoever wins it -- them or us."
But the reality is that Calipari covets this kind of shot. He's got Texas coming to Memphis on Jan. 2. He'll play Gonzaga on Dec. 27. He just beat UCLA on Wednesday night in the semifinals.
So, it's no secret how much he and the Tigers want this crack at Duke, especially since the Blue Devils are ranked No. 1.
"It's incredible," Memphis senior forward Rodney Carney said. "It's a dream come true. Everybody wants to get the No. 1 team on a neutral court. You want a shot to beat them. The other guys don't realize the severity of it but this is a big opportunity for us."
Memphis' players caught a glimpse of how Drexel played Duke -- attacking. Memphis plays a frenetic style this season and that approach worked well against UCLA. The Tigers jumped out to a 51-34 halftime lead behind 20 first-half points from freshman Shawne Williams. But he finished with only six more points. The underclassmen dominated team (of the top nine players only one is a senior and the rest are sophomores and freshmen) were outscored 46-37 in the second half as the Bruins awoke.
Shorthanded UCLA (down two potential starters), which is going with a youthful team as well, wasn't the aggressor early. Memphis intends on doing the same thing against Duke.
"I learned that Duke can't guard off the dribble," Williams said of watching Drexel go after Duke in the first half Wednesday. "We've got to come out and play hard and penetrate."
Whether or not Memphis can mimic Drexel's success will largely be up to the freshmen like Williams.
"Our problem is that we have so many young kids," Calipari said. "We were up 20 and we couldn't finish them off. We got selfish and went nuts ... We've got to go out there and just go."
Calipari wants to run, be the aggressor and attack. And, for the first time in his career, he's got his shot against Duke. He's not about to say it publicly but this is the kind of game he's wanted to get on Memphis' schedule since he arrived. Now he's got his shot, even if it's in November. He's still got a game against Duke when the Blue Devils are No. 1.
-- by Andy Katz, ESPN.com
|Drexel's Dominick Mejia helped take the game to Duke.|