Memphis prevented from setting NCAA consecutive conference wins mark

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis senior Pierre Henderson-Niles had never felt the sting of losing a Conference USA game, and didn't like the feeling after UTEP snapped Memphis' 64-game conference winning streak.

"In my four years, we haven't lost one game," Henderson-Niles said. "I'm sure they are going to celebrate and all that. They beat us. I would too, if they had won (64) in a row. Who wouldn't?

"It hurt bad. It hurt bad losing a conference game like that."

Jeremy Williams scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Randy Culpepper added 13 points, including a key steal and layup with about a minute left, and UTEP beat Memphis 72-67 on Wednesday night, preventing the Tigers from setting an NCAA record for consecutive conference wins.

The UTEP victory ended Memphis' unbeaten string in C-USA, including postseason tournament games. The Tigers had not lost a conference game in the regular season or postseason since dropping an 80-74 decision at Alabama-Birmingham on March 2, 2006.

Kentucky also won 64 straight Southeastern Conference games from 1945-1950.

"Beating a Memphis team that has dominated this league for so long is obviously a big win," said Miners coach Tony Barbee, who was an assistant under former Memphis coach John Calipari when the streak started.

And Barbee wasn't the only one recognizing the importance of the win. He has recruited several players from the Memphis area, including Williams and Culpepper. And while they tried to downplay the excitement of beating the Tigers (13-5, 3-1), it was obvious the win was big for them.

"You have no idea," Williams said of the feeling. " It's Memphis. It's great. That's the best part about it.

"Growing up in Memphis, you watch Memphis all the time, and you dream of being out there. It was crazy. I'm on the other end playing against Memphis, but it's still a good win anyway."

Culpepper, a junior guard, added: "Since I've been here, we haven't beaten Memphis. That was one of my goals before I left UTEP was to beat Memphis. We came out and that's what we did."

UTEP (12-5, 3-1) built a second-half lead that reached seven and held on to end the overall streak and also Memphis' regular-season C-USA winning streak at 52 games.

Memphis had a chance on a late possession to tie the game, but turned the ball over with 4.3 seconds left. Christian Polk, who finished with 17 points for the Miners, hit a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds left. Derrick Caracter scored 14 points for UTEP.

Elliot Williams led Memphis with 23 points, while Wesley Witherspoon added 12 for the Tigers.

The turnover on the last Memphis possession was indicative of the Tigers' play down the stretch, committing five miscues in their final seven possessions.

UTEP took the lead for good with 9:40 left when Polk connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. From there, Memphis got within a point -- 65-64 with 3:30 left on a pair of free throws by Witherspoon, but couldn't catch the Miners.

"We've got a number of juniors on this team that have been through the scars, the battles and the wars," Barbee said. "It's about time we put together a tough victory, where down the stretch guys had to make plays, play tough. We had a lot of guys step up late in the game."

The teams exchanged leads early in the first half, neither building an advantage of more than four points until Memphis created a slight lead with a trio of baskets, including 3-pointers by Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp.

That run allowed Memphis to lead 34-31 at halftime, despite a pair of 3-pointers from Polk in the final minutes.

Williams carried the Tigers in the half with 12 points. Caracter gave UTEP an inside presence early, and Polk provided a closing offensive punch.

Memphis' lead was built behind shooting 5 of 10 from outside the arc. But UTEP countered with 10 points off Memphis turnovers and outrebounding the Tigers 19-13.

UTEP ended the night with only a 32-31 edge on the boards, and a 16-9 advantage on points off turnovers.

Memphis coach Josh Pastner, in his first season after taking over when Calipari departed for Kentucky, said it is time to start a new streak.

"It was a tough loss, and the guys took this hard," Pastner said. "But you have to give all the credit to UTEP. They are good."

And while Barbee's team did something that no C-USA team had accomplished in almost four years, he realized they can't rest on the win too long.

"We can't take this win and take two steps back," the UTEP coach said. "We've got to keep taking steps forward."