After Loss to Georgetown, Memphis Coach John Calipari Wants His Team to Get Tougher

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

John Calipari had just watched his Memphis team score 28 second-chance points against Georgetown because of tenacious offensive rebounding. But following a 79-70 loss to the Hoyas yesterday, Calipari walked into visitors' locker room at Verizon Center and wrote one word on a grease board: tough.

Despite his team's dominating the rebounding battle, Calipari watched No. 19 Georgetown outrace the 17th-ranked Tigers to loose balls late in the game and outhustle them down the stretch. He also made clear that he had witnessed another work-in-progress team show it is on a much quicker learning curve than his revamped Tigers.

"We are not ready for this kind of game," Calipari said.

The matchup of two teams that each won more than 25 games last season produced a big-game atmosphere. Amid the crowd of 15,238 were Dikembe Mutombo, the former Georgetown center; Tom O'Connor, a member of the NCAA tournament selection committee; and William Wesley, one of the most influential power brokers in basketball.

But without Derrick Rose, who was picked first in June's NBA draft, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was drafted in the second round, Memphis is connected to last season's national runner-up in school name only. The Tigers (5-2) may still win the Conference USA title, but they are expected to have a slimmer margin for error than they did last season.

"I am trying to learn about my team," Calipari said. "I don't have my team figured out yet. Sometimes I am really happy, sometimes I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh.' We haven't been like this for three years. We knew our team. Now we have no idea."

Throughout yesterday's game, Memphis's best offense was a missed shot. The Tigers collected 25 offensive rebounds and sent the game into overtime when Shawn Taggart followed Tyreke Evans's miss with a tip-in with four seconds left in regulation.

Memphis led by one point at halftime, but forward Robert Dozier said the Tigers would have been up 10 or 15 points if not for poor shooting and 10 turnovers. Memphis finished with 20 turnovers and shot 34.6 percent.

The Tigers won the rebounding battle, 53-36, but Georgetown Coach John Thompson III acknowledged that "we got a couple key rebounds where we had to."

That frustrated Calipari, who saw his team wilt in critical moments. At one point, Calipari let his team play through a difficult stretch rather than call a timeout. He said that strategy worked with last year's ultra-talented team. Not this season.

"My veterans have to play better," Calipari said. "We can't count on freshmen. You're not going to win what we are trying to win."

Evans, one of the nation's top freshmen, scored 20 points but made just eight of 24 shots. Calipari said Evans "showed signs of 'wow.' " But Calipari said he also took an ill-advised three-pointer late in the game because he didn't know any better.

"He is used to AAU ball," Calipari said.

After his first road loss in nearly two years, Calipari faces the task of finding ways to win and figuring out his team, even as the Tigers navigate a difficult nonconference schedule that includes road games at Tennessee and Gonzaga.

"We have got some guys, if they don't play rougher and tougher, we're not going to be as good," Calipari said.

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