Still with a chance at an undefeated conference season, Memphis now must accomplish something it hasn't had to do in more than two months -- bounce back from a loss.
With an 18-game winning streak over after an uncharacteristically poor offensive performance, the No. 19 Tigers try to reignite their attack and clinch the outright Conference USA title Saturday as they visit Central Florida.Memphis had no problem scoring in a 93-71 home win over the Knights on Feb. 13, shooting a season-high 58.5 percent from the floor.Things were much tougher in a 64-62 loss at Xavier on Tuesday, Memphis' first since a defeat to then-No. 6 Louisville on Dec. 15. The Tigers (24-4, 13-0) had been averaging 84.6 points over their previous five games, ranking among the best in the country during that stretch while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor.Now, they'll try to right the ship after what guard Geron Johnson called an "out of character" showing against the Musketeers."Guys were locked in on Monday (at practice)," said coach Josh Pastner, who remained stuck on 99 career wins. "We just did not play well that first half. We had bad energy for whatever the reason may be ... but we got to snap out of it. We can't sit on win 24. Win 24 is great but we've got to get to 25 in a hurry."Memphis scored a season-low 20 points in the first half at Xavier on 33.3 percent shooting and hit a season-worst 6 of 18 from the free-throw line for the game. The team also was outrebounded by nine despite averaging a plus-5.0 differential on the season.The Tigers became the final Division I team to lose on the road, falling to 7-1 in opponents' arenas. They've already clinched a share of the conference title in their final C-USA season, and they need one win in their last three games to secure the outright crown."Our guys are good guys," Pastner said. "It wasn't anything that I need to get through to them more. Maybe it was a good wakeup. We have to come out and be rejuvenated on Saturday."Memphis encounters a UCF squad that is playing well on its home floor, winning eight of nine. The Knights (19-9, 8-5) may have extra motivation in the final home game for senior Keith Clanton, one of the program's most accomplished players.Clanton, an Orlando native, is the program's all-time leader in rebounds, blocks and games played."I don't pay too much attention to the records now, but I think that when I get older, it will be great to know that I was one of the best players ever at UCF," he told the school's official website. "I have had a great career and have been a part of some of the biggest wins that we have ever had."He may be especially proud of UCF's 68-67 home victory over the Tigers last season, the Knights' only win in 14 all-time meetings. Clanton converted the game-winning three-point play in the closing seconds.Clanton struggled last month against Memphis, though, scoring 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting with just three rebounds. That was the start of a rough five-game stretch in which he's averaged 9.6 points on 29.2 percent shooting. He scored 16.0 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting in his first 23 games.Joe Jackson led Memphis with 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting along with 10 assists earlier this season versus UCF, while Johnson added 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.