Rivalry games always bring the best out of teams. Rankings mean little to nothing when familiar foes take the court. And when No. 6-ranked Louisville flew into the Bluff City this past Saturday (Dec. 15), the Cardinals had to expect the unranked Memphis Tigers' best effort.
The Tigers-Cardinals rivalry dates back to before the 1960's and the two schools renewed their intense competitions last year. Memphis traveled to Kentucky last year, so the Cardinals had to come to the FedExForum this season.
When all the yelling, screaming and groaning was done, Louisville had prevailed 87 to 78. If there was any doubt that this match-up had retained its intensity, the over 18,000 fans that showed up for the game made it clear that these two teams still have a healthy disdain for each other.
Right from the tip-off, the FedExForum was rocking and it was obvious that the Tigers were feeling the energy in the arena. The Tigers ran out to a 25- 9 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game and looked the best they have all year.
The Cardinals would rally slightly, due to a heavy amount of fouls committed by Memphis (on some questionable calls). Yet, the Tigers would still take a 35-28 lead into half time.
Memphis roared into the second half with the same fervor and expanded its lead to ten points. Then in a period of about 90 seconds, Louisville converted back-to-back-to-back three pointers and the Tigers' double-digit lead had vaporized.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Cardinals took their first lead game since the first couple minutes of the first half. Memphis never got it back.
The last three minutes were highly unexciting as the Tigers were forced to foul every possession and hope that Louisville didn't sink their free throws. Louisville didn't cooperate.
The Cardinals improved to 9-1 and the Tigers fell to 6-3 on the year. Although Memphis looked as impressive as the team has in any game this season, Louisville was just a little too much for coach Josh Pastner and his Tigers to handle.
Under Pastner, Memphis has yet to defeat a top-25 team. And unfortunately, this might have been the last chance for Pastner to reach that milestone during the Tigers' regular season schedule.
And the bad news doesn't stop there. Over the weekend, the seven catholic basketball-only schools (Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Providence and Seton Hall) in the Big East have voted to leave the conference.
The Tigers, however, aren't worried about conference realignment.
"The next game is always the most important" said Pastner.
Memphis will host David Lipscomb on Thursday (Dec. 20). This shouldn't be a tough test for the Tigers. The real story will be whether Memphis can replicate the energy it brought into the Louisville game after such a devastating loss. Or will the Tigers struggle and play down to their opponents.
Photos: Adonis Thomas of the Memphis Tigers battles Montrezl Harrell (left) of Louisville and Zach Price for a loose ball. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)
Former Tigers star (and NBA stalwart) Penny Hardaway (center) and other fans flashed looks of disappointment as Memphis' lead slipped away. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)