MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis coach John Calipari stopped on court for a few questions with his seniors, enjoying a moment with the winningest three players over a four-year stretch of men’s college basketball.
Then he reminded everyone that his Tigers, with 134 wins and counting over the past four seasons, aren’t done yet.
“We’ve still got season left,” Calipari said.
Robert Dozier scored 16 points and No. 4 Memphis became the first NCAA Division I program to win 30 games in four consecutive seasons Friday by beating Houston 74-49 in the Conference USA tournament semifinals.
Dozier is part of that three-man senior class with Antonio Anderson and Chance McGrady—a group Calipari credits with transforming Memphis into a truly national program.
And one that bested Duke’s 133 wins from 1998-2001, a run that culminated in a national championship.
“I think 40 years from now they’ll still be the winningest players in the history of college basketball. All three will graduate in May, on time, in four years. You can clap. I’m serious. You can clap,” Calipari said.
Memphis (30-3), which also extended the nation’s longest active winning streak to 24 games will play either UAB or Tulsa in Saturday’s championship, looking to pair a fourth straight C-USA tournament title with the Tigers’ regular season titles. Shawn Taggart, Doneal Mack and Wesley Witherspoon each added 10 points.
Houston coach Tom Penders could only agree with Calipari’s assessment of a group that was last year’s national runner-up in a little campaigning for the Tigers before Sunday’s NCAA tournament bracket is announced.
“Why they still don’t get respect is absurd … I think the perception is nobody’s in this league. Every year the people forget what these guys do when they go to the tournament. We got beat today. We gave these guys a … lot better battle than either Michigan State or Texas last year,” Penders said of teams Memphis beat in the NCAA to reach last year’s Final Four.
Unfortunately for Houston (21-11), the Cougars were playing their third game in three days after finishing the second just 16 hours ago. The league’s top scoring team had its worst scoring game of the season.
“I’m just sorry we didn’t have a little more gas and legs to make it more interesting,” Penders said. “We couldn’t rebound. We looked like we were wearing snowshoes out there for most of the game, yet I credit my kids for just all out hustling. They played as hard as they possibly could.”
Memphis has won 60 straight league games, second to Kentucky’s 64 straight Southeastern Conference wins between 1945 and 1950.
Last year, Memphis had joined Kentucky, which did it twice, a year ago as the only Division I programs with three 30-win seasons in a row. UCLA joined those teams late last season.
Memphis was coming off its lowest scoring game of the season in a 51-41 quarterfinal win over Tulane, and Dozier and Anderson had their own motivation after scoring only two points apiece in that win.
“We had to go out and be more aggressive, be leaders out there, take control of the game when we can,” Dozier said. “I think we did that to them.”
The Cougars, in the semifinals for the third time in four years, needed overtime to beat Texas-El Paso in the last of the quarterfinals the night before. Kelvin Lewis had a team-high 18 points, and Aubrey Coleman, who had 24 against UTEP, had just 14 on 6-of-18 shooting.
The difference showed almost immediately as Memphis tried to run early and often to remind the Cougars just how tired they might be. Memphis led by double figures eight minutes into the game and sealed the victory with a 27-0 run early in the second half.
Lewis hit two free throws to open the second half. That was the last Houston would score until Lewis’ three-point play at 9:56. By then, Memphis had scored 27 straight, a run highlighted by four straight free throws by Dozier after a hard foul from a frustrated Nick Mosley, who drew both a personal and technical.
Dozier hit all four, prompting a loud standing ovation from an arena filled with blue except for the Houston pep band, cheerleaders and a handful of supporters.
When Dozier later hit two more free throws to cap the 27-point spurt, Memphis was up 61-24 with 11:11 left.
Penders said he tried every defense possible and joked that he wanted to call Bill Belichick of the NFL’s New England Patriots for advice.
“It’s kind of a hopeless feeling,” Penders said of the run.
Aubrey Coleman scored in the opening seconds for Houston’s lone lead of the game. Memphis answered with Taggart’s dunk. Tyreke Evans scored to put the Tigers ahead to stay at 18:26, and the Tigers took over. Dozier, who had just two points in the quarterfinal win over Tulane, hit a 3 from the left corner, and Doneal Mack added a 3.
Witherspoon’s putback of Taggart’s miss pushed the lead to double digits for the first time at 11:57 at 19-8, and Memphis led 34-22 at halftime. The Tigers outrebounded Houston 48-24 for the game, and Houston struggled to hit the basket, leaving shots short or off the front rim and missed 14 of their first 17 attempts. The Cougars finished 18-of-53 (34 percent).