KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dripping with sarcasm, the chants rained down from the Memphis faithful like so many Roburt Sallie jumpers: "ACC! ACC! ACC!" But John Calipari turned to his loyal throng and waved all their mouths shut.
"Hey," the Tigers coach scolded, "don't do that."
Not because the taunts might jinx his players -- there was, after all, still about 4:30 left in the game -- but for the opposite reason entirely.
Memphis 89, Maryland 70 (RECAP | BOX SCORE) would be statement enough.
"Like they said," Calipari said, referring to the pre-game comments of Maryland guard/rabble-rouser Greivis Vasquez. "Where would we finish in the ACC? We don't know. We're not in the league. Where would we finish in the Big East? We don't know. We're not in that league."
But now Memphis, that little league giant, is on its way to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth consecutive year. Said senior guard Antonio Anderson, "We're in Conference USA and love it."
Three Things We Learned
1. When the Splish-Splash Brothers are making it rain, few teams can stand in the Tigers' way. The book on Memphis is that it defends like hell and runs the floor. But with the emergence of Sallie (3-of-4 from three, 13 points) and counterpart Doneal Mack (5-of-7 from three, 17 points), teams must also fear them from long-range. Sallie, if you haven't noticed, has now scored 48 points in his first two NCAA tournament games.
"We call each other the Splish-Splash Brothers," Mack says. "I'm Splish, he's Splash." Says Sallie (or Splash), "We're just adding more dimensions to not being able to slow this team down." Indeed, the Terps tried at least three different defenses (man-to-man, zone and press) to no avail.
2. Once the Tyreke Evans train gets rolling, watch out. He's not quite LeBron James in body type, but a 6-foot-6 point guard with tremendous speed and body control can do a considerable amount of damage in the lane. Memphis broke open the game by fast-breaking on what seemed like every single possession, and Evans was the one playing the role of locomotive.
"Evans is just a terrific player," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "If you didn't know how big he was, you would have thought he was about six feet the way he was playing out there in terms of when he had the ball."
3. Despite the score, Maryland's Williams has to consider this season a clear success. In the face of tremendous criticism -- see the three-part Washington Post series from February that devoted thousands upon thousands of words to scrutinizing his decline -- Williams performed some of his best work late in the season, salvaging a team that few saw being in the NCAA Tournament, let alone winning a game.
"Nobody can take what we did this year away from us," Terps junior Eric Hayes said. "And, you know, lot of people doubted us this year...I know overall once we look back on this season, it's going to be a great one for us."
When Williams does leave Maryland, as some have absurdly clamored for, it should be on his own terms. The man may be an old-school curmudgeon, but he's an old-school curmudgeon who can coach as well as he can curse.
Player Who Impressed Me
Antonio Anderson. While his teammates were lighting it up -- Memphis shot 58 percent from the field -- Anderson scored two points and dished out 11 assists (against just two turnovers). He also held Vasquez, who dropped 27 on Cal on Thursday, to 18 points. These Tigers comprise a new team with a new identity, to be sure. But it's worth remembering that Anderson did start on a team that went to the national title game last year.
"From what I'm hearing, those guys get no respect," Evans says. "They talk about Derrick Rose and CDR [Chris Douglas-Roberts] and Joey Dorsey, but nobody really talks about 'Tone or Robert Dozier."
While his teammates and coaches were loath to speculate how Memphis would, in fact, finish in the ACC, big forward Pierre Henderson-Niles had no such reservations. He predicted that the Tigers would either be first or second. (By the way -- and this is totally unrelated -- have you ever seen a cheerleader wearing John Calipari's face as a mask? If you haven't, and you'd prefer to keep your brain's circuitry intact, consider yourself blessed.)
Marquette or Missouri (tipping off at 6:50 PM EST Sunday). Marquette, sans injured guard Dominic James, barely scraped by Utah State, and the Golden Eagles will miss his services again. In any event, fans should probably hope for the track meet that would be Mizzou-Memphis: not only will it be a mirror match-up of mascots, but coach Mike Anderson loves to run. Calipari will happily oblige.