Heading into the midway point of their American Athletic Conference schedule, the University of Memphis Tigers are in one of the better positions they have been in since hometown hero Penny Hardaway stepped into the head coaching spot.
The Tigers (15-5, 5-2 AAC), are in third place, only one game behind the No. 2-ranked Houston Cougars (18-2,6-1). The Tigers are yet to play Cougars, with the first matchup set for Feb. 19 in Houston.
In his four prior seasons, Hardaway’s Tigers were working their way toward being on the right side of the post-season NCAA Tournament bubble at the conference’s midway point.
As the Tigers push forward, Hardaway has achieved an unofficial milestone in his coaching career. In the recent win over the Cincinnati Bearcats, Hardaway notched his 100th coaching victory.
“I am blessed to be the coach here in Memphis,” said Hardaway, who starred with Memphis Tigers before putting his All-Star-level talent on display for years in the NBA.
“From the first game that I came in here, I was excited to be here. I am still excited to be here. I haven’t lost that feeling of wanting to win for this city and university. My wins are great, but it wouldn’t have happened without the great players and staff.”
Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams have been the two lights guiding the offense for this season’s Tigers. Davis has won a record number of Player of the Week Awards from the American Conference. Williams is the reigning winner of this week’s award.
One of the best guards in the country, Davis is averaging 21 points per game. He scored a season-high 42 points in the double-overtime loss at Central Florida.
Williams, who is averaging 16.9 points, has been a steadying force for the Tigers and the acknowledged emotional leader, albeit a bit too much at times, drawing the referees’ whistles.
In the games that Williams has fouled out, the Tigers have lost. Also, in those games, he received a technical foul. In college, a technical foul also counts as a personal foul. In the last three games, he has been a controlled force.
While Alex Lomax has been the leader on defense, he’s on the injured list. Banged up over the course of the season, the Tigers are moving toward getting healthy at the right time.
Jayden Hardaway, who had been out, played in a reserve role in the Cincinnati win. Center Malcolm Dandridge, who played with impact early on, is projected back next week. Lomax may be out the next couple of weeks but is expected to return in time for the start of the conference tournament in March.
“I am looking at one game at a time,” said Hardaway about the injuries. “I understand we are not at full strength. It is next man up. These guys are prepared to go out. They a capable of winning. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You have to go and compete and go 1-0 every game.”
Memphis has won 15 straight home games and is on a three-game winning streak.
Next up is Thursday’s game against the SMU Mustangs at FedExForum. The first 1,000 fans will receive a Billy Buford bobblehead. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN2.