Originally Published: Feb 12, 2010 3:22 PM CDT
Bobby Lewis & Kyle Dierking
Oklahoma Sports Reporters
TULSA, Oklahoma – Two preseason Conference USA heavyweights are set to clash Saturday night at the Reynolds Center. The Golden Hurricane hosts four-time reigning conference champion Memphis in a battle of conference title hopefuls. Tulsa has finished runners-up to Memphis in the league tournament in each of the past two seasons.
The Tigers ran through league play without a blemish last season, finishing a perfect 16-0. Tulsa finished just behind Memphis in the standings, at 12-4.
The Golden Hurricane is coming off a dramatic come-from-behind win over Southern Miss. The Golden Hurricane trailed until late in the second half when a Justin Hurtt 3-pointer from the wing gave Tulsa the lead for good.
Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan played well late, but struggled in the first half. Uzoh made just three free throws, while Jordan went scoreless in the first 20 minutes.
Jordan did make league history in the first half. The lanky center became Conference USA’s all-time leader in blocked shots against the Golden Eagles. Jordan rejected a Maurice Bolden layup attempt to claim the record. He finished the game with one block and has swatted 315 shots in his career.
This year’s Memphis squad will look a lot different than the one that beat Tulsa twice last season. On the bench, last year’s Tigers head coach John Calipari won Conference USA Coach of the Year honors. On the floor Memphis picked up a trio of conference honors. Tyreke Evans won the Freshman of the Year award, Antonio Anderson finished as the won Newcomer of the Year, and Wesley Witherspoon took home the won the league’s Sixth Player of the Year honors.
Three of them are gone. Calipari left for the basketball-rich tradition at the University of Kentucky, and Evans now stars for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA. Anderson now plays with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Developmental League.
Witherspoon returns for a Tigers team that averages 75 points per game. The sophomore scores over 12 points per outing and is tied for the team lead in rebounds per game. Elliot Williams, the Tigers’ explosive sophomore guard, leads the team scoring nearly 20 points per game. He has scored 32 or more twice this season.
The Tigers come into the game against Tulsa on unfamiliar footing. Memphis has alternated wins and losses in each of its past five games. They beat Central Florida at home Wednesday night, 76-70. Five Tigers scored in double figures against the Golden Knights.
Memphis ruled Conference USA for the better half of a decade under Calipari, and a win over Tulsa would boost their chances at another league title. The tables have turned from last year, however, heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa holds a slim half game lead over Josh Pastner’s team in the standings.
The Golden Hurricane welcomes Memphis to town riding a 23-game home winning streak. That mark is the third-best active streak in the nation. The last team to beat Tulsa in the Reynolds Center, was Memphis last season.
The game is part of Legends Weekend, when past TU basketball stars will be recognized and Willie Biles (1970-74) will have his jersey #12 retired. In addition, it will be "HOOPS FOR HAITI" WHITEOUT as the first 5,000 fans will receive a White Tulsa Basketball T-shirt.
Tip-time for the conference matchup is set for 6 p.m.
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