KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was all about the U for Memphis.
Thank goodness for the second-seeded Tigers.
An almost anonymous juco guard was the difference between Memphis getting a first-round win over scrappy Cal State Northridge and becoming the fifth No. 15-over-No. 2 upset victim in the tournament's history. That's Roburt -- with a u -- Sallie who dropped a school tournament-record 35 points on the Matadors in an 81-70 Memphis victory.
The sophomore had been averaging 4 1/2 points this season until breaking loose. The total broke Memphis' 36-year-old tournament record held by Larry Keenan. No one could properly explain why Sallie went off but Memphis needed every single point. Northridge led 64-61 and had the pro-Kansas crowd on its side before the Tigers finished the game on a 20-6 run.
"I don't think my teammates would ever expect me to do that," Sallie said. "I'm just a shooter."
Take away Sallie's 10-for-15 shooting from the arc and Memphis was one for 13 from distance.
"We had to have a guy get 35 for us to win the game," Memphis coach John Calipari said.
The game was descending into an embarrassing loss similar last year's national championship meltdown against Kansas. Northridge played without its two leading scorers, not including coach Bobby Braswell's son who has been charged with felony burglary back in California. Nine transfers populated the roster.
"They weren't afraid, they punched us in the mouth," Memphis' Antonio Anderson said.
As the potential for an upset kept building, the Sprint Center crowd got behind the Matadors. Mark Hill's up-and-under scoop gave the Matadors a three-point lead with nine minutes left. A lot of that crowd were Kansas fans who bought tickets anticipating the Jayhawks being in Kansas City. The Kansas fans who didn't sell their tickets saw a familiar scene playing out.
Memphis led by four with 2:12 left. The Tigers let a nine-point lead get away with that much time left in last year's national championship game.
"It was a gut game for us," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "We've had a lot of those over the last 61."
Calipari was referring to Memphis' 61-game Conference USA winning streak. This is the Big Dance, though, where the Tigers are trying to redeem last year's loss in San Antonio.
As for Sallie, the Sacramento, Calif. product came from the City College of San Francisco after being recruited by Nebraska. The "u" in the middle, applied by Sallie's mother, "gave me my uniqueness," he said. The Matadors seemed to ignore the 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard for most of the game. Bad move. Calipari stood behind Sallie the other day at practice and watched him make 14 consecutive 3s.
"He had it in him all year," Anderson said.