Free throws are Achilles' heel for Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Memphis Tigers are among the best scorers and shooters in the country -- until it's time to shoot free throws.
Let the Tigers shoot without anyone waving a hand in their face or trying to block their shot, and suddenly it becomes difficult.
How difficult? Well, the Tigers hit 61.5 percent from the free throw line this season, ranking 314th out of 325 Division I teams.
With the Tigers (30-3) heading into the NCAA tournament seeded second in the South Region, coach John Calipari isn't worried.
"My Final Four team at UMass shot 63 percent, about the same as this team, and 85 percent with four minutes to go in every tight game. I expect the same from this group. They'll do the same," Calipari said.
The Tigers, who shot a respectable 46.3 percent from the floor heading during the regular season, won their 22nd straight game, the best winning streak in the nation, by beating Houston 71-59 in the Conference USA tournament championship Saturday.
Of course, it wouldn't have been that close if the Tigers had hit their free throws.
At one point, Memphis was shooting more accurately from beyond the 3-point arc than at the free throw line until they rallied and finished 14-of-31, a 45.2 percent average.
Four Tigers hit fewer than half their shots at the line, and the worst offenders are starters -- junior forward Joey Dorsey (46.4 percent) and freshman point guard Willie Kemp (40 percent). At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Dorsey gets lots of chances at the line and hit 52-of-112 during the regular season.
Dorsey is so unpredictable at the line that he brought fans to their feet Saturday by hitting two in the same trip to the line. He finished 5-of-11 at the line but hit his only two in the second half.
"The guy you worry about the most, he's making pretty good progress," Calipari said. "He's the one you worry about, and he's the one making them. I took him out at the end and I said, 'Why am I taking him out? He's the one making them."
The final minutes is what Calipari worries about most. He says he's confident the Tigers will hit the free throws they must have to finish off an opponent.
"Jeremy (Hunt) can miss them all. But with the game on the line, he'll make them. I've seen Willie Kemp 30 times in high school go 0-for-7 and two minutes left in the game, make the last six in a row. Andre Allen the same way," Calipari said.
"The problem is the game's closer because you're not making enough. But I think we'll be fine."
That might be the key. The Tigers ranked fifth nationally in scoring margin, winning games by 17.3 points per game and barely a point behind North Carolina in that category. They averaged 80.1 points, ninth-best nationally in scoring offense.
Their first-round opponent Friday in New Orleans, No. 15 seed North Texas, isn't much better. The Sun Belt Conference tournament champs hit only 65.5 percent at the free throw line.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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