GLENDALE, Ariz. –
The similarities between the Memphis Tigers and the Missouri Tigers don't just end with the teams sharing a nickname, it goes way beyond that. That was the topic of conversation on Wednesday at the University of Phoenix Stadium, as both teams prepared for their regional semifinal matchup tomorrow evening.
"Certainly they play a brand of basketball that is very similar to what we do," said Missouri Head Coach Mike Anderson, "I think that's -- to me, that's probably the fun part about it."
Both teams are hard-nosed aggressive teams that pride themselves on their pressure defense. Anderson feels that the main difference between the squads is the length of Memphis' front line.
"They are just a little bit bigger than we are and longer. But I think to me it's -- it is a great challenge," smiled Anderson, "I think you are in this tournament. The challenges are going to get tougher and tougher each and every game. Hopefully your team comes with the right mind-set."
"I think you are going to see two teams that pride themselves on defense. And I think they play up-tempo. They utilize the athletic ability of the players. I think you will see some highlights that -- energy plays. You will see some things that you will marvel at. You will probably see some things like "wow, did he do that?
"They want to get up-tempo and we want to get up-tempo. It is something that I think both teams are looking forward to."
Memphis forward Shawn Taggert didn't hesitate to immediately agree with the statement that the two teams play similar styles.
"They remind us of ourselves a lot," said Taggert, "We try to pick up the tempo and make teams run to change the flow of the game and have a high-scoring game. That's what they do too. It is going to be a good game tomorrow."
Missouri's Leo Lyons thinks that Memphis tries to control games with their offense, while Missouri focuses on winning with defense.
"I think with us it is more we try to control the game with our defense, control the pace with our defense," said Lyons, "I think that's the tale. It will be our defense against their offense and try to keep them off the glass."
Another thing in common between the teams is that they both have not gotten the respect they deserve, in different ways. For Memphis, they hear about the conference they play in, while the critics say Missouri shouldn't be in the Sweet 16.
"That's the remarkable thing about our guys being here right now," said Anderson, "No one is talking about our basketball team, for obvious reasons."
"The only one that had NCAA tournament was my son, which is Michael Jr. So here we are with seven guys that never played at this level."
Memphis guard Antonio Anderson says that his team hasn't worried about what critics have said all season long and that is what caused them to get this far.
"You know, we never tend to worry about what people say about us," said Antonio Anderson, "And Missouri deserves to be here. I know they are not worried about what other people are saying as well."
A scary moment occurred in practice for Missouri when leading scorer DeMarre Carroll went down to the court grasping his left ankle. Carroll walked off the floor and later returned to practice, but walked with a noticeable limp afterwards.
"I'm 100 percent. I'm 100 percent," repeated Carroll, "Trying to make a move and I tweaked my ankle a little bit. But at this point, it is the Sweet 16. I'm 100 percent."
Another twist to the plot for tomorrow's game is that Mike Anderson is the last coach to ever beat John Calipari in a Conference USA Game. Anderson's UAB Blazers beat Memphis 80-74 on March 2, 2006. Anderson left Birmingham 24 days later and Memphis hasn't lost in the conference since.
"That was many, many years ago," laughed Anderson, "We get a chance to meet of all places the Sweet 16."
"I thought it was a fantastic played game by both teams. We were fortunate enough to pull the game off. I guess they kind of run the table since then. That just tells you the type of program that Memphis has."
Calipari remembers that game all too well and knows that this matchup is going to be just like the old times in Conference USA.
"We saw each other in the hallway out there and I said it is going to be another boxing match," said Calipari, "I can just see it coming, and he laughed because we have had wars. His teams and my team."
"I was just laughing saying he has got it going again. But he is a terrific coach and gets his teams to play extremely hard. Very physical, a lot of body-to-body, a lot of hands on the body. A lot of whacks at the ball. But they play, they ball basically."
Tomorrow the similarities end with one common goal, victory, but only one of the two teams can achieve that and advance to the Elite Eight. For Missouri, Mike Anderson knows that for his team to win, they have to match the energy and focus of Memphis.>p>"I think you got to match their intensity. You got to match their energy. I think you got to match them especially on the glass," explained Anderson, "They are a tremendous defensive team. We pride ourselves on defense as well. So it is going to be -- you throw the ball up and you just go play."
"I enjoyed going to the practice court with these guys because I know one thing they are going to do, they are going to leave it on the floor. So win, lose or draw I know they will leave it on the floor. The key is they will give themselves a chance."