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College Basketball Insider

Memphis beats LSU to setup rematch with Oklahoma State at Old Spice

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a point in Friday's game, after LSU went up 57-49 with a little less than 13 minutes to play, when the same Memphis team that somewhat quit at Oklahoma State last week -- and admittedly "didn't play hard," according to senior guard Joe Jackson -- seemed on the verge of doing the same thing again.

The Tigers were down.

They had no momentum.

They were suddenly in an adverse situation and dealing with an opponent with comparable athletes, which is a rough combination for Memphis. Or, at least, it had been recently. Either way, the Tigers did not fold this time. They instead rallied ... by playing inside-out, of all things. And the result was an eventual 76-69 victory over LSU here at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex that will give Memphis a chance on Sunday night to change the national perception of its program in a rematch with the team that basically humiliated the Tigers and helped shape that perception 10 days ago.

I'll get to that in a moment.

But first let's focus on this win over LSU.

"We grinded it back and found a way to get the lead," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "It wasn't easy. But we found a way to get the win."

The way, oddly, was by intentionally creating scoring opportunities for Austin Nichols -- the 6-foot-9 local product who is already proving to be more advanced offensively than most analysts probably realized. He scored around the rim and by facing up LSU's talented bigs. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds in a team-high 38 minutes.

"I love [how] my teammates [are] feeding me," Nichols said. "I just have to keep it going."

Which brings me back to Oklahoma State.

Back to what happened to Memphis 10 days ago.

Back to what Memphis needs to happen two days from now.

Pastner's decision to take a team with nine new players to Gallagher-Iba Arena so early was, in hindsight, a mistake because it didn't result in a win or even a quality loss on the road to a good team. It was a disaster from start to finish, and, because it was the biggest sporting event on TV on that night, a larger-than-normal audience witnessed it.

Nichols was just OK. Most everybody else on the Memphis roster was terrible. The Tigers trailed by 34 points, lost 101-80 and returned home to a whirlwind of criticism rooted in the fact that Pastner is now 0-13 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 of the AP poll.

"People were upset after that game, which I understood," Pastner said. "We were all upset."

And embarrassed.

And that's not my word, by the way.

That's the word Jackson used to describe things.

"Of course we were embarrassed," he said. "Letting somebody score points on us like that was embarrassing. But we've course-corrected quickly."

For what it's worth, it looked like it Friday, but the real test comes Sunday. Memphis will be an underdog to Oklahoma State, as would most teams in the country right now. But can the Tigers be competitive? Can they figure out a way to slowdown Marcus Smart? Can they avoid another embarrassment on national television? Can they, maybe, snap that 13-game losing streak to ranked opponents and change the tone within their city?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But, either way, they seem anxious to get the opportunity.

"As competitors, we wanted to play against Oklahoma State again," Jackson acknowledged. "It's a chance to get a great win against an Oklahoma State team that's very good."


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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