MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – The Memphis Tigers remember the final 5 minutes of their first game against Connecticut only too well. The Huskies simply didn’t miss in turning a tie game into an easy win.
Now the 20th-ranked Tigers visit No. 24 UConn on Saturday, and Memphis coach Josh Pastner insists he sees only opportunity and not revenge for that 83-73 loss on Jan. 16.
"We’ve got to do a better job," Pastner said. "We just got to be better. We’ve got to play like UConn did coming in here. They played with their backs against the wall, and we’ve got to do the same thing going up there to Connecticut."
Saturday’s game is the first of seven to wrap up the regular season, and it’s a crucial stretch for Memphis with four of those on the road. Of those seven, the Tigers will be playing the three teams to beat them in the American Athletic Conference: UConn, Cincinnati and SMU in the regular season finale.
"It’s most important to win every game from here on out," senior guard Joe Jackson said. "That’s the goal. We need every game. We can’t give a game away. It’s very important for us, for our team and our confidence. We can’t give away the game that we gave away to UConn and Cincinnati."
Memphis was right there against UConn with 5:22 left on Jan. 16. Then the Huskies hit all seven shots from the floor and went a perfect 6 of 6 at the free throw line to finish off the Tigers. DeAndre Daniels had a double-double with 23 points and a career-high 11 rebounds with Shabazz Napier scoring eight of his 17 points in those deciding final minutes.
Daniels said Friday the Huskies will have to match Memphis’ intensity.
"I feel like they are going to come out more aggressive because they are going to want revenge," Daniels said.
Jackson said the Tigers were very indecisive throughout that game, especially on defense where they didn’t help each other as much as they could. UConn also outrebounded Memphis by 12. Jackson sees the mistakes as easy to fix, and Pastner agrees.
"Napier hit a couple shots that we had a couple hands in his face," Pastner said. "He’s a big-time player."
The Tigers (19-5, 8-3) currently are third in the AAC behind league-leading Cincinnati and Louisville. They have won eight of their last 10 with the losses to UConn and on the road at SMU. A win Saturday keeps them pushing for the league title in their first season in this revamped and retitled conference before hosting the American tournament in March.
Jackson said the losses to UConn and Cincinnati feel like an early season loss to Oklahoma State made worse by it coming on their home court.
"No matter who it is we don’t like losing at home," Jackson said. "Just going out on the road we play better on the road. It’s going to be a better environment for our team because we’re going to come together. It’s going to be fun for us because of the challenge, and we need it."
Coach Kevin Ollie believes UConn (19-5, 7-4) is better defensively and on the boards now than when the Huskies beat Memphis last month. The Huskies have won eight of their last 10, including the 10-point victory in Memphis, and have held their last four opponents to just over 50 points a game.
Ollie wants to make sure they protect their own court, even if teams like Memphis may be more ready for them the second time around.
"We are playing against teams that are ahead of us, so if we take care of business, then we’ll move up in the standings," Ollie said. "So, I’m not worried about that."