Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:43 am
Edited on: January 21, 2010 12:53 am
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- UTEP beat Memphis here at FedExForum on Wednesday night.
Thus, the 64-game Conference USA winning streak is over.
Memphis had the ball in the final seconds with a chance to tie. But that chance resulted in a Willie Kemp turnover, and when Christian Polk sank a pair of free throws the Miners -- with three starters from Memphis -- exited the court with a 72-67 win. Afterward I talked to UTEP coach (and former Memphis assistant) Tony Barbee about it, and he was predictably pleased -- just like Randy Culpepper, the Memphis City Schools product who got a huge steal and layup in the final minute to create a cushion for the Miners. Then I packed my stuff, got in my car and drove out of downtown while listening to the Tigers postgame show, and the callers presented one reason after another for the streak ending at 64, many of which revolved around the pressure of the streak itself.
But that's not really true.
Want to know why Memphis lost for the first time in 65 C-USA games?
It's because Memphis was out-manned for the first time in 65 C-USA games.
End of streak.
"I think so, too," Barbee responded when I told him I thought he had better players than Memphis, and -- don't get it twisted -- he didn't mean it in a disrespectful way. Barbee went on to talk about the dominance of the Memphis program, everything it lost when John Calipari left for Kentucky, and the fact that Josh Pastner is recruiting at a level that'll have the Tigers nationally relevant again soon. "But this is a rebuilding year," Barbee said. "No coach ever wants to say it. But Josh knows this is a rebuilding year."
Credit Barbee for nailing it.
It would've been easy for him to stand there and act like he just beat a Memphis team like the Memphis teams led by Rodney Carney or Chris Douglas-Roberts or Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans, but that's not the type of Memphis team he beat. Rather, he beat a Memphis team that lost its top four scorers from last season as well as a recruiting class that would've included John Wall, Xavier Henry, DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson, and it's not going to be too difficult for teams with two pros -- like UTEP has with Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter -- to beat that kind of team, even if said team plays in jerseys with "Memphis" stitched across the front.
That said, it's still a big win for UTEP.
It's a win that put the Miners' talent on display on a larger-than-usual stage, a statement-win that suggests UTEP is good enough to win C-USA and make the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barbee's four seasons. Beyond that, it was special for the Memphis guys in the UTEP uniforms -- specifically Moultrie, Culpepper and Jeremy Williams, none of whom were seriously recruited by Memphis out of high school.
They combined for 34 points against the Tigers.
So the Memphis streak was basically broken by Memphis products.
"It's big for them because they grew up wanting to play for Memphis," Barbee said. Later, Culpepper echoed that thought, and added that he had actually been pulling for the Tigers to win their first three league games so that he could play a role in ending the C-USA winning streak.
"I wanted them to win all their games," Culpepper said. "I didn't want anybody to beat them until we got our chance."
That chance came Wednesday night.
"And we were ready," Culpepper said. "It's a great win for us."