Saturday, March 29, 2008
Rose, Augustin battle for spot in Final Four
By Tim Griffin
HOUSTON -- Their formal introduction came last summer at an adidas basketball camp in New Orleans.
There, Texas guard D.J. Augustin was pitted against Memphis freshman wunderkind Derrick Rose in a matchup that had other campers buzzing. Rose's team featured other top young talent from around the country like UCLA's Kevin Love. Augustin's squad was stacked with veteran players like Louisville's Edgar Sosa, Arkansas center Steven Hill and Memphis teammates Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier.
The game between the heralded incoming stars and their more seasoned college opponents played out with predictable results. Today, Rose merely remembers it as a time when Augustin "got the best of me."
But that 20-minute scrimmage left a searing imprint that college basketball would be a big adjustment from what Rose was familiar with back home in Chicago.
"After that, I knew I had to go work out," Rose said. "That was one of the reasons I stayed in the gym when I got back for about four hours, just working on my shooting and ballhandling, working on my layups and just running. I knew that he would be a tough opponent and I had to get ready for college ball."
The two talented point guards will be matched again Sunday in the South Regional final. This time, however, Rose figures to have the edge in experienced teammates.
The top-seeded Tigers are looking to crack a ceiling after winning 102 games in the past three seasons. Their mark is tied for the second-highest win total in a three-year period in NCAA Division I history (with Kentucky, from 1947 to 1949). Kentucky (1996 to 1998) also holds the record with 104 victories.
"I don't know if anything needs to be said about Memphis other than the fact that in three years, they've lost nine games and this year they've lost one," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "The three-year run that they have put together here is really remarkable."
It's also been marked with back-to-back losses in the Elite Eight, leaving a stigma on a Memphis program still looking for its first Final Four berth since Dana Kirk took the Tigers there in 1985.
|Once Derrick Rose played D.J. Augustin last summer, Rose knew he had to prepare harder for college.|
"Everybody is happy to be back here, but we haven't gotten over the hump yet," Memphis senior forward Joey Dorsey said. "We hear that all the time. But we've tried to put it behind us and try to get better. We feel confident this year."
That kind of collective swagger will be important if the Tigers break their program's artificial barrier at this time of season.
Immaturity cost Memphis those games. The Tigers struggled offensively against UCLA's defense and couldn't hit big shots with a freshman-laden team two years ago. And Dorsey made a critical error in judgment last season when he called out Greg Oden before the game.
"I wanted the pressure on me a little bit," said Dorsey, who declined to make similar predictions for Sunday's game. "I had to think about it all summer and it was tough. But you live and you learn. I've matured a lot from that game."
Memphis coach John Calipari has revamped his offense, installing a drive-and-kick offense that places a premium on dribble penetration into the center of the defense. The Tigers also have changed their defensive philosophy, emphasizing steals and constant on-ball defensive pressure.
But the biggest change has been the emergence of Rose, who likely will be one of the NBA's top two draft picks if he declares this summer. His development was punctuated with a career-high 27 points scored against Michigan State on Friday night in the regional semifinals, despite missing much of the second half with a cut over his right eye.
And how important is he to the Tigers' success? Memphis collapsed in a 17-0 MSU run soon after he left, turning a blowout into a competitive game until he returned.
Everybody is happy to be back here, but we haven't gotten over the hump yet. We hear that all the time. But we've tried to put it behind us and try to get better. We feel confident this year.
-- Memphis' Joey Dorsey
"I told him he didn't need to be Jason Kidd. He didn't have to be Shaq," Calipari said. "Just be who you are and do the things you do. And he's done that."
The difference is noticeable to Augustin.
"Playing against him was a great opportunity to get better as players and he's gotten better as the year went on," Augustin said. "He's basically a sophomore now."
Memphis will face another huge obstacle Sunday at Reliant Stadium, which should have a partisan crowd pulling for the Longhorns. Barnes has never lost in seven previous NCAA tournament games in Texas while coaching the Longhorns.
The Tigers have faced similar challenges in recent tournaments, losing to UCLA in Oakland, Calif., in the regional final in 2006, and beating Texas A&M in San Antonio's Alamodome in the regional semifinal in 2007
"We actually like that," Anderson said. "We've been expected to lose throughout the tournament. There's no pressure on us at all. We definitely don't want it too easy."
And it won't be. Texas has made a remarkably deep run in the tournament after losing college player of the year Kevin Durant from last season.
Despite that loss, this Texas team might be better. The Longhorns have limited three NCAA tournament opponents to 62.7 points per game on a combined 34.1 percent shooting.
Augustin's development has been the most obvious reason. He's improved his scoring by nearly five points per game and developed into a forceful, assertive leader who is clearly his team's No. 1 option from the point.
"The biggest thing is his basketball IQ," Calipari said. "He knows who's on his team and what they can do and he puts his team in position that they can have success."
While the Rose-Augustin matchup likely won't come very often on Sunday -- Augustin is expected to be defensed by Anderson and Rose will draw Texas ace defender Justin Mason -- just having the two top point guards on the court at the same time should make for perhaps the most entertaining matchup of the tournament.
Calipari joked that Sunday's game might end up being 106-102. While that might be an exaggeration, there should be enough offense to give Rose and Augustin ample opportunities to showcase their skills.
"It's going to be an interesting game running back and forth," Rose said. "People will say we shouldn't do this, but it's just the way we play. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Tim Griffin covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|D.J. Augustin and the Longhorns should feel right at home in Reliant Stadium.|