GLENDALE, Ariz. — Three years ago, Mike Anderson stood on the sideline opposite John Calipari and led UAB to an 80-74 victory in Birmingham, Ala.
Since the loss to Anderson’s Blazers, Memphis is 61-0 against Conference USA opponents, the longest conference winning streak in the nation. It has made the Elite Eight three straight years.
NCAA West Region
No. 3 Missouri (30-6) vs. No. 2 Memphis (33-3)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. (Following the conclusion of the Purdue/Connecticut game)
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium at Glendale, Ariz.
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
RADIO: KBXR/102.3 FM and KFRU/1400 AM
“If you can win 30 four years in a row, you must be a terrific basketball coach and have a terrific team,” said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose team plays Purdue on Thursday in the first game in Glendale.
Twenty-four days after beating Memphis, Anderson took the job at Missouri and began rebuilding a program that had struggled on and off the court under the leadership of Quin Snyder. After two seasons with a combined record of 34-28, Missouri’s surprising 2009 season has taken it back into the NCAA tournament after a six-year absence.
“What he walked into and what he’s done there…phenomenal,” Calipari said of Anderson.
Thursday night, Anderson and Calipari will be on opposing sidelines again in a Sweet 16 matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Calipari won five of seven matchups against Anderson’s UAB teams, and neither coach has forgotten the way those games were played.
“We saw each other in the hallway out there, and I said it is going to be another boxing match,” Calipari said. “I can just see it coming, and he laughed because we have had wars, his team and my team.”
Memphis seniors Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson both came off the bench in the loss to UAB in 2006. Antonio Anderson scored nine points in 27 minutes and Dozier added six points in 16 minutes on the court. Both of them scoffed at the notion that a game played three years ago against a different team would have any impact on Thursday’s game.
“(Mike Anderson) has a better team now,” Antonio Anderson said. “He has a whole new corps of guys. We played them three times that year, and we were 2-1.”
Although Missouri’s team this season probably has more talent than Anderson’s old UAB teams, Memphis seems to be the superior team. Calipari’s team certainly has a height advantage, with all five starters standing at least 6-foot-5.
“He has probably three or four guys that are going to the NBA,” Mike Anderson said. “I got some guys that are hoping they get into the NBA.”
Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll graduated from high school in Birmingham in 2004, and he got to watch most of the games between Mike Anderson and Calipari, including UAB’s victory in 2006. The senior forward said this year’s Memphis team has some of the same strengths as Calipari’s teams in the past.
“He always had them long, lengthy athletic guys who attack the offensive boards,” Carroll said. “His team is always well coached. He always had a great point guard. He got Tyreke Evans this year.”
After UAB’s upset of then-No. 3 Memphis three years ago, Calipari got revenge against Anderson with a 57-46 win for the school’s first-ever Conference USA tournament championship. Memphis advanced to the Elite Eight, where it lost 50-45 to UCLA, while Anderson’s Blazers were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Kentucky.
This time, the stakes are higher.
Thursday’s winner will advance to play the winner of Connecticut-Purdue on Saturday, while the loser will go home and begin preparations for next season.