It was another big weekend for C-USA basketball, as all 12 teams were in action Saturday, beginning with a clash between the undefeated conference leader Memphis Tigers, and the talented Houston Cougars.
After having some problems with the Houston backcourt in the first half, John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers tightened the screws on defense in the second half, and pulled away for an 83-68 victory at the Fed Ex Forum. Memphis (7-0, 18-3) won their 12th consecutive game and their 49th consecutive conference game, and once again showed that they are indeed the class of C-USA.
"We had great defense," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "What I love is our post defensive play really stepped up. Now, all of a sudden, you're pretty good in the post, and you're pretty good on the perimeter."
UCF Knights (5-2, 15-6) struggled mightily on the road with a Tulane Green Wave team (3-4, 9-11) that was outsized, but up to the task. Tulane took double-digit leads on the Knights on a few occasions in the second half, but UCF battled back to force overtime, and conference and national player of the year candidate Jermaine Taylor bailed his Knights out by scoring seven points in the extra session to lead UCF to a 79-74 victory. Taylor, the conference’s leading scorer, led all scorers with 28 points on 9-19 shooting.
“Our guys showed great determination and great desire in coming back to win this,” UCF head coach Kirk Speraw said. “In our league, every game is tough, especially every road game. We did not execute as well offensively as I would have liked to, but we made some big stops when we needed to.”
The Knights have won five consecutive games after beginning conference play with consecutive losses to Memphis and UAB.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane hosted the height rich, but less than supremely talented SMU Mustangs on Saturday, and coasted to a 64-55 victory. SMU was able to trim a 16 point lead by the home team to just five with a little over a minute remaining, but ran out of gas at the end. Tulsa (5-2, 15-7) is now tied with UCF for second place in the conference.
The UAB Blazers survived a dogfight in Huntington, WV as they were taken to overtime by a very game Marshall team before falling, 75-73. The Blazers (4-3, 14-8) needed a Lawrence Kinnard three-point shot with 29 seconds to send the game in overtime before they locked down Marshall (2-5, 9-12) and held them to just four points in the extra session.
The UTEP Miners were victorious over Southern Miss as better than 7800 fans witnessed a great battle of guards. The Miners’ Stefon Jackson scored 29 points as he connected on 17 of 18 free throws, while the Eagles Courtney Beasley bucketed 30 points in a losing effort. With the 87-75 victory, UTEP moves to 4-3 in conference (13-8 overall), while Southern Miss falls to 3-3 in conference (13-7 overall).
Last but not least, the Rice Owls earned just their second conference victory of the season as they defeated the ECU Pirates (2-5, 10-10), 76-70 in Houston. Rice (2-4, 7-14) was led by Aleks Perka’s double-double as he scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards. ECU was led by Chad Wynn’s 21 points off the bench.
Game of the week: Houston at UCF, Wednesday, February 4th. The Knights put their 10-1 home record on the line against a very talented Houston backcourt led by Kelvin Lewis and Aubrey Coleman who combine to score 38.7 ppg., 11.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. UCF is led by dynamic guard Jermaine Taylor who leads the conference in scoring with 23.9 ppg. Freshman point guard A.J. Rompza will likely draw the defensive assignment against Coleman, and the 5’9” Rompza will make him work for every shot. Which ever team gets the better contribution from their front court will likely leave the UCF Arena victorious.