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Tigers toughen up to advance to Sweet 16

NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Douglas-Roberts sat on the training table in the back of the Memphis locker room, his left ankle in a boot. A member of the Memphis staff stood in front of him, blocking the access, to make sure Douglas-Roberts had privacy.

Roughly 15 or so minutes later, after the locker room had been closed to the media, the Tigers' leading scorer was ushered into the coaches' locker room, hobbling in on crutches.

But there was nothing to hide, really; the Tigers can't yet say how long Douglas-Roberts will be out with what Memphis coach John Calipari said is an ankle sprain. The sophomore guard had an MRI on Monday, which revealed no broken bones but confirmed a moderated ankle sprain.

We do, however, know this: He is determined to play against Texas A&M on Thursday in what should be a hostile environment at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The No. 2 seed Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 after pulling away from No. 7 Nevada, 78-62. When Douglas-Roberts went down with 8:11 remaining, the Tigers were up seven. The lead was cut to two, but the Tigers were able to hang on without Douglas-Roberts, who had gone 10-for-12 at the line (3-of-8 overall), for 16 points in 23 minutes.

"I'm going to play," Douglas-Roberts told ESPN.com as he hobbled out of the locker room.

Calipari was quick to say, "We don't know yet." But he added, "we hope."

On Monday, Calipari's tone hadn't changed.

"The kid says he's going to play, but you never know," he said in a conference call.

Memphis athletic spokesman Bob Winn said Monday that
Douglas-Roberts' ankle would be re-evaluated each day.

"He's got three days to try to get well," Winn said.

Calipari said he was unsure if the injury would keep
Douglas-Roberts on the sidelines Thursday night in San Antonio.

"You can't play in a game like this at 75 percent, 80 percent.
And especially the way we play them," he said. "If you're
breaking down defensively or you're not able to stay up with the
pace of the game, it's just you've got to sit back and let these
other guys go.''

So here is the rub for Memphis. Even if Douglas-Roberts doesn't play, this team is deeper and tougher than a year ago. The Tigers still might survive without him -- or at least, without a healthy version of him -- in San Antonio.

The main reason might be the play of Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier. Oddly enough, one is built like a tank, the other like a crane, yet they were the two who outmuscled the Wolf Pack with nine and eight boards, respectively.

"Man, [Nevada All-American Nick] Fazekas was talking the whole time about how he led the nation in rebounding, but I kept him off the boards," Dorsey said on Sunday night. "He kept saying how he was one ahead of me, but he didn't want to bang inside. He wanted to step out on the perimeter. He didn't want any contact."

Dorsey, who outrebounded Fazekas by two, didn't feel the same way.

"I love contact, I'm a physical player," said the 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior. "If the referees let us play, then I don't worry about the offensive players."

That's a shot at Fazekas' finesse game. Dorsey will have to be just as brutal on the boards against an Aggies team that thrives on being tough and physical with Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas.

"When he's mean, we have something that no one else does," Calipari said. "… It's going to be a slugfest."

That's why pulling away from Nevada without Douglas-Roberts was so critical to this team's confidence. The team's leading scorer is more of a finesse player, and without him, Memphis had to adapt. The Tigers pounded Nevada with Dorsey, Dozier, and strong guards Jeremy Hunt and Antonio Anderson (who didn't avoid contact at all). They were aided further by the hard-nosed play of compact-tanker-built Andre Allen.

There is a different feel to this crew than a year ago when the Tigers were a No. 1 seed and had to play UCLA in Oakland in the Elite Eight. As Anderson said Sunday, there wasn't as much chemistry in the locker room last year, as then-NBA-prospects such as underclassmen Darius Washington, Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney had complaints about shot selection.

"We showed a lot [Sunday]," Anderson said of winning without Douglas-Roberts. "He wasn't trying to play for himself. He was playing within the team. And once he went out, everybody got the vibe that we had to do more.

"Last year, we had great guys, but they wanted the ball, wanted to shoot the ball and someone might get mad if they didn't," Anderson said. "This year, nobody is jealous of each other."

And that might be why no one was down about Douglas-Roberts hobbling in the locker room. No one was fretting that the team had lost a star. Everyone seems to be vested in the same cause, and if one player is down, then an opportunity rises for someone else. Douglas-Roberts says he's determined to play. But Calipari reminded him that nothing is certain and no one has the answer yet.

That's OK. This Memphis team doesn't rely on one person, or even two or three, to advance.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.