The No. 17/17 Memphis Tigers (12-3, 3-1 AAC) are currently on a two-game winning streak and looking to stay on the winning path heading into their first home game since Jan. 4. On that date, they suffered an embarrassing loss in front of the Tiger Nation Fanatics to the No. 19/23 Cincinnati Bearcats.
Head coach Josh Pastner made it clear to the media that the four senior guards have to play well for the Tigers to win, and that he would continue to ride them to the bitter end. Well, his senior guards answered the call and delivered in two straight road wins.
In the win over the No. 14/18 Louisville Cardinals, three of the senior guards scored in double figures. Joe Jackson had 15 points along with six assists and one rebound. Geron Johnson added 13 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Sharpshooter Chris Crawford pitched in 12 points.
Memphis has big men in the paint that can score as well. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin had 15 points and eight rebounds in the win over the Cardinals. Freshman forward Austin Nichols finished the game with 10 points and seven rebounds. Memphis defeated Louisville by the final score of 73-67.
In their second straight game on the road, Memphis picked up right where they off with great guard play and dominance in the paint against the Temple Owls. The highlight reel came from Goodwin as he put up a double-double, finishing the game with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He shot 63.6 percent (7-of-11) from the field and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the free throw line.
Jackson didn't score a single point in the first half against Temple but managed to finish the game with 10 points. Michael Dixon led the guards in scoring with 15 points. Memphis defeated the Owls, 79-69.
As a team, the Tigers shot 45.5 percent (30-of-66) from the field and 73.7 percent (14-of-19) from the line. In order for Memphis to defeat the visiting Connecticut Huskies, they will have to continue to shoot a good percentage from the field and knock down free throws.
UConn (13-3, 1-2 AAC) is coming into this game looking for their first marquee win in the American Athletic Conference. They lost their first two conference games to Houston and Southern Methodist. After a two-game losing streak, the Huskies got back to their winning ways with a 61-56 win over Harvard. Senior guard Shabazz Napier had 18 points and junior guard Ryan Boatright added 14.
The Huskies didn't get their first win in conference play until Jan. 11 when they defeated the Central Florida Knights, 84-61. In this game, freshman center Amida Brimah had 20 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes and shot 80 percent (8-of-10) from the field. This was a career-high for Brimah.
Napier had a strong game, finishing with 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Junior forward DeAndre Daniels added 13 points, seven rebounds and one assist.
As a team, the Huskies average 74.9 points a game and only give up 64.6 per game. They are not known for being high-scoring but with Napier and Boatright in the backcourt, they are capable of scoring 80 or more any given night.
The Huskies will either have to score a lot of points or play a grit-and-grind type of defense to defeat the Tigers at FedEx Forum Thursday night.
Memphis has no problem putting points on the scoreboard as they are averaging right at 80 points a game while giving up 69.5 points a game against one of the toughest out of conference schedules in the country.
Connecticut does have the advantage when it comes to free throw shooting. As a team, they are shooting 76.4 percent while the Tigers are shooting just 65.6 percent. If this game comes down to which team knocks down their free throws, Memphis could be in for a long night.
The senior guards (Jackson, Crawford, Dixon and Johnson) for Memphis will have to set the tone early in the game and not get off to a slow start. Once the guards find their rhythm then Goodwin and Nichols will be able to score easy points in the paint for the Tigers. If this happens, then look for Memphis to win this game by double figures.
This game is slated for Thursday at 6 p.m. CST at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN3.