SAN ANTONIO Remember the Alamo uh, Alamodome, that is.
Sure, it's not the most original catchphrase. But it's worked out pretty well for the Memphis Tigers.
Memphis' 2007 season ended with a regional finals loss to Ohio State. A picture from that game has hung in their gym all season, reminding them of narrowly missing the Final Four and of trying to get back to that very building, the site of this season's Final Four.
They're here now, of course, having won the South Regional. And after practicing at Trinity University on Thursday, they took the floor for practice Friday, and will play UCLA in a national semifinal today.
If all goes well, they'll be back Monday night with a chance for the school's first championship.
"This won't stamp the season we've had," coach John Calipari said Thursday, continuing a message he pushed last week, too. "It won't change what we've done this year, which is unbelievable. You can add to it and make it even bigger. But the reality of it is it will not take away from what we've done."
Hmmm. Being 39-1 and winning a title is a lot better than being 37-2 or 38-2.
Funny thing is, there's a good history to the "Remember the Alamodome" concept.
When the Final Four was last held here, in 2004, Connecticut won. Their theme? The very same idea, borne from a regional semifinals loss at the Alamodome in '03.
The Tigers practiced at Trinity last season, too, but they're not doing everything the same. Their hotel is different. The roster is mostly the same, too, with one standout difference: Freshman Derrick Rose, who almost certainly is playing his final college game or games before going to the NBA.
"All we're going to do is have fun," Calipari said. "If it leads us to something good on Monday night, have at it, we're going to have a ball. I want these kids to feel nothing but, 'Let's go play, show what we're about. Let's make statements.' But the biggest thing is when they watch us we're hugging each other, we're smiling. ... The reality of it is I want to have fun. I want to enjoy this. You're at a non-BCS school, you don't get to a Final Four very many times."
Memphis was known as Memphis State the last time it got this far, back in 1985. And that trip was wiped off the books because of rules violations. Memphis State reached the finals in 1973, losing to UCLA. This generation of Tigers and Bruins have some history between them, too a 50-45 loss in the 2006 regional finals.
"I think they're ready for this. But you don't know in these events. The wrong guy gets two or three fouls called on him early, and it changes the whole game," Calipari said. "We've made small adjustments for this game. We're not going to change what we do. This is how we play, what we do. Let's go."
One small change is out of necessity. Third-string point guard Andre Allen is suspended for an undisclosed rules violation, which means his 14.1 minutes per game will have to be absorbed by others.
"I feel bad," Calipari said. "I love Andre, I'll love him a month from now. It won't change what's going to happen this weekend. It may elevate us because sometimes, when something is taken away, a team comes together."
Perhaps one of those moments came in the loss to Ohio State.
The Tigers trailed at halftime, then surged ahead by five while Greg Oden was on the bench in foul trouble. They led until Oden made a three-point play and the Buckeyes got to keep the ball because of an intentional foul. Another basket put Ohio State in front, and Memphis never recovered.1 comment on this story
Asked Thursday if these Tigers are more prepared than last year's squad, Calipari said: "Last year we weren't prepared for the No. 1 pick of the draft (Oden), the No. 4 pick of the draft (Mike Conley Jr.), the No. 21 pick of the draft (Daequan Cook). We were playing, like, who is this team? The next week, they played the Celtics and gave them a heck of a game. ...
"We hung in there," Calipari said. "But I think the attitude here is where we want it."
Today at San Antonio
Memphis at UCLA, 4 p.m.
N. Carolina at Kansas, 6:45 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2