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February 28, 2012
Tigers owe payback to UCF
The one that slipped away - Memphis' 68-67 loss to Central Florida in the closing seconds was one tough defeat to swallow.
But the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team (21-8, 11-3 in Conference USA) has redemption on their minds as they prepare for tomorrow's 8 p.m. contest against a UCF team that's poised for a regular season sweep of the Tigers. And by head coach Josh Pastner's standards, this game is very important to both teams.
"It's going to be a high-level game and we're going to have to be ready to play at a high level," Pastner said. "We had a couple chances there at Central Florida at the end. We missed a dunk, a layup, free throws, didn't grab a few boards here and there - both teams are playing for a lot."
Not only is it that pressure to not lose to UCF twice in one season, but it's the added pressure of this game being senior night for two graduating seniors and one athletic director - Wesley Witherspoon, Preston Laird and R.C. Johnson. Pastner says to include the incumbent AD because this is his last game at FedExForum as Memphis' athletic director. So the Tigers would want to not only win this game to help their push for a postseason bid, but to send Laird, Witherspoon and lame duck athletic director R.C. Johnson out on a winning note.
"Preston broke his hand so he's not medically cleared to play, but I plan on starting Wesley tomorrow night," Pastner said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for R.C. taking a huge leap of faith, an out of the box hire on me - so I'm forever loyal to him."
Tigers senior Witherspoon needs to have a great game. And what better way to redeem yourself from that loss than to go out on senior day and have an impact against the very same team that beat you earlier in the season and have their student section storm the court. But Witherspoon ensures he's focused and will try to not let the emotions of senior night get the best of him.
"I remember Memphis Madness when I first got here and now it has went so fast that you tend to take that time for granted - and tomorrow it's going to really show," Witherspoon said. "Hopefully I'll be able to keep all my emotions in tomorrow - I don't want y'all to see my soft side."