Three Hits: Memphis clips SMC in NCAAs

Here are three things we gleaned from No. 6 Memphis’s 54-52 victory over No. 11 Saint Mary’s in the Midwest regional (Round of 64), setting up a Saturday showdown of Memphis and Michigan State:

1. Memphis doesn’t have time to lament a near-epic collapse in the final 3.1 seconds

The Tigers nearly gave the crowd at The Palace Of Auburn Hills an ending they’d never forget — from an infamy standpoint.

Up five with seconds to play, Memphis forced Saint Mary’s into an off-balance three-pointer (Eividas Petrulis), which somehow banked in with 3.1 ticks left (cutting the deficit to two). On the inbounds pass, the Gaels’ Jordan Giusti deflected the ball off a Tigers player (Joe Jackson) before it rolled off the court.

With this miraculous break, Saint Mary’s would suddenly have a chance to force overtime — or go for the win — near its own basket (corner).

On the final play, star guard Matthew Dellavedova got a clean look at the basket from 21 feet out . . . only to see the last shot of his collegiate career sail past the rim.

For Dellavedova, it was a moment of surreal clarity, as four years of West Coast ball in an unfamiliar land went flashing before his eyes.

For the 31-4 Tigers, it afforded them a chance to exhale in relief, knowing they’d be making the welcome transition from ‘prohibitive favorite’ to ‘enticing underdog’ (against Michigan State) in just 48 hours’ time.

2. D.J. Stephens brought new meaning to the term ‘block party’ against Saint Mary’s

The Tigers registered 12 blocks against the Gaels, including Tarik Black’s twisting denial of an SMC fast-break attempt late in the game.

But the major defensive kudos go to the senior Stephens (nine points), who rejected nearly everything in sight on Thursday and helped perpetuate a myth that Memphis has an endless stream of 7-footers patrolling the paint — when, in reality, the Tigers start three guards and have limited resources in the “height” and “depth” departments.

Only two reserves logged playing time for Memphis, with Black (12 points, seven boards) and Chris Crawford combining for 17 points (on 6 of 10 shooting) and 14 rebounds.

3. College fans will miss four-year stars like Matthew Dellavedova

Where did the time go with the Gaels guard, who was recruited out of Australia before the start of the 2009-10 season? In his time with Saint Mary’s, Dellavedova led his team to one NIT appearance and three NCAA berths — including a surprising run (No. 10 seed) to the Sweet 16 in 2012.

During his “down time” from the Gaels, Dellavedova (seasonal averages: 16.4 points, 6.3 assists) represented his native country in last year’s Summer Olympics in England, playing against the likes of guards Russell Westbrook, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Jose Calderon, Alexey Shved, Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

On Thursday, though, Dellavedova (10 points, seven assists) struggled mightily in his collegiate swan song, hitting just three of 13 shots. It was a far cry from a few months ago, when the 6-foot-4 guard notched 31 or more points three times in the Gaels’ first eight games.

Up next: Dellavedova will take his ideal NBA size and world-class creativity with the ball to the pro ranks.