What’s plaguing Memphis?


The final buzzer sounded at just past 9 p.m. ET as No. 15 Georgetown put the finishing touches on a 70-59 victory over Memphis at the Verizon center, wrapping up what was a crisp, two-hour basketball game.

It wasn’t until 10:45 pm, however, that Memphis head coach Josh Pastner finally emerged from his team’s locker room in the bowels of the Verizon Center. For the second time in the span of 10 days, the Tigers had a team meeting in an effort to cure what ails them, this one lasting just 15 minutes less than the game itself.

“We just had a team meeting and needed to air a few things out,” Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said after the game. “It was the right thing before we got to Christmas break. It was a good open discussion. I love those guys, no one in there is happy to be 6-5. Have we played a tough schedule? Darn right. But we’re too good to be sitting at 6-5.”

He’s right.

The Tigers are as talented as any team in the country. On paper, they are a top ten team. But there is a reason this group is sitting just a game over .500 heading into the Christmas break, the second straight season they have have stumbled out of the starting blocks.

And only one possession is needed to give you an idea of why.

With just under six minutes left in the second half of No. 15 Georgetown’s 70-59 win over Memphis, Joe Jackson missed an open three that could have cut what was once a 20 point lead to eight. He missed it, but Will Barton grabbed the offensive rebound. Barton’s follow-up attempt was blocked by Henry Sims, and the ball ended up on the floor. Three different Memphis players had a chance to pick up the loose ball, but it was Jason Clark that eventually dove on the floor and called a timeout, giving possession back to the Hoyas.

In the grand scheme of things, that single possession really didn’t mean all that much. The Tigers were still able to cut the Georgetown lead to as close as seven and they had numerous other possessions during a late-second half rally that could be pinpointed as critical failures in their comeback.

But that possession epitomizes what is currently plaguing the Tigers. The failure to execute and the inability to hit open shots is obvious. More importantly, however, the Tiger’s have a chronically inconsistent effort level, and that is why Memphis finds themselves in the position that they are in.

“You’re losing and there was bad energy,” Pastner said. “That’s been an achilles heel for us, we haven’t been able to sustain a 40 minute game of energy.”

“We can’t have energy for 18 minutes, its gotta be for 40. Basketball is a game of energy and if you don’t have the energy its hard to win at a high level.”

Its gotten to the point that the question has to be asked: will this team respond to Josh Pastner? Is he the kind of coach that is capable of lighting a fire under this group? Is he the guy that will convince them that, unless they are playing for 40 minutes the way they played in the final ten, they will continue to lose games?

Because at this point there can be no more team meetings.

“A lot was aired out, which I think was very good,” Pastner said. “But in the end I said ‘Guys, we can’t have this. We can’t have anymore meetings.’ We’ve gotta do our jobs and get the job done.”

Its time to put up or shut up. Either the kids that step foot on the basketball court in a Memphis jersey every night are going to decide that they are sick of losing and sick of being embarrassed by falling to teams they can — and should — beat, or they are going to continue to disappoint and underperform. Its up to the players to decide whether or not they make this loss and the resulting team meeting the turning point of their season.

“We just got to go out there and play for each other. That’s when we’re going to be a great team,” Will Barton said after the game. “Teams aren’t better than us talent wise, but talent can only take you so far. We gotta really play for each other and want each other to succeed. That’s when we are going to take off. You can’t have those bad vibes out there.”

And that’s where the frustration lies for Pastner.

In the end, there is only so much that he is going to be able to do. He’s can’t go out there and make the plays. He can’t be the one that boxes out on the defensive end of the floor or pulls the ball out and runs their half court offense when a transition opportunity isn’t there. When it is all said and done, all that Pastner is able to do is to prepare his team as well as possible and hope that they take what he says in practice, during film sessions and in huddles on the bench during games and turn it into victories.

And right now, that isn’t happening.

It doesn’t help matters that the Tigers have virtually zero veteran leadership on their roster. Charles Carmouche hasn’t played since the team got back from Maui. Wesley Witherspoon has become a shell of himself, going scoreless in three of the past five games and managing to see the floor for a whopping eight minutes in the last two. DJ Stephens has been sidelined with a bum knee and Stan Simpson has proven nothing except the fact that he is not ready to compete at this level of basketball. What that means is that Ferrakhon Hall, a junior that played just his third game with the Tigers after transferring in from Seton Hall midway through last season, is the only upperclassman that sees any kind of significant playing time right now.

With that much youth playing that many minutes, ups-and-downs are going to be inevitable. The problem is that the downs last far too long, that no one involved with this team seems to be able or willing to rip into this team when they need a fire lit under them. Its no secret that Pastner is one of the nicest coaches around. He doesn’t drink or curse and he’s young enough that he could easily be mistaken for a player if he showed up for a game in a jersey instead of a suit.

That’s just who he is, his defenders will tell you.

Honestly, I have no problem with that. To tell you the truth, its actually refreshing to see a coach at a big-time program that has values beyond winning at all costs. But you better believe the media in Memphis is sharpening their knives. He’ll only get a pass for so long before people start calling for his job, and in Memphis, when the media starts calling for your job, you’re in trouble. They ran off the football coach. The athletic director got it too.

And if things don’t start heading in the opposite direction soon for Memphis — like, for example, if the Tigers lose to Tennessee next month after losing out of top ten recruit Jarnell Stokes on Thursday night — the columnists are going to start coming after him.

If who he is is a coach that doesn’t win games at Memphis, he won’t be long for that job.

So what needs to change?

For starters, Pastner needs to find a way to start being the bad guy, and the easiest way to motivate a basketball player is by sitting him down. If a player isn’t performing the way he is expected to, than he can grab a seat on the pine. He’s already started that process with Witherspoon, who has become a complete non-factor and a sulking presence on the bench.

Next up is Tarik Black. Frankly, it is unacceptable for the starting center of any team to go an entire game without grabbing a rebound, and that is precisely what Black did on Thursday night against Georgetown. He fouled out after just 13 minutes of play, including a whopping three minutes and three fouls in the second half. Hall, in his absence, wasn’t exactly the second-coming of Dennis Rodman, collecting just two rebounds in his 22 minutes, but he brought an energy and a toughness to the interior that we haven’t seen out of Black all year long.

“I thought Ferrakhon gave great effort. He was battling and competing,” Pastner said.

Black wasn’t, and he hasn’t all season. Hall was, so next Thursday when Robert Morris comes to town, put him in the starting lineup.

“That’s what my niche is with this team,” Hall said. “That’s what I can do to help the team. I’m not a guy that’s going to come out and score 30 points. I just go out and I put my heart into it and I know that’s how I can affect the game.”

Jackson should be third on Pastner’s list. This was easily the talented point guard’s toughest outing of the season, as he finished 0-7 from the floor with four turnovers while sitting the final three minutes of the game, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he’s struggled this year. The issue with Jackson is that Pastner doesn’t seem to quite understand how to use him. He’s a scoring guard, but he’s very generously listed a 6’1″ (more like 5’10”) and needs to have the ball in his hands.

The bigger problem? Jackson doesn’t take failure well. When he misses a couple of shots in a row, it throws him off for the rest of the game, and not just offensively. It affects his defensive effort and his decision-making process with the ball in his hands. Jackson starts to think instead of react, and that, frankly, is the worst thing that can happen to a player as talented as him.

Memphis was at their best on Thursday when both Black and Jackson were strapped to the bench. The Tigers made their run in the second half when Pastner had both Bartons, Hall, Chris Crawford and Adonis Thomas on the court together. That team scrapped. They hustled. They turned defense into offense. They played with pride, and that’s something that we haven’t seen enough of this season from the Tigers.

“We’re playing good teams every night,” Barton said. “You just cant have nights that you take off. Thats a big past of it. We have some metal lapses. We’re just trying to get a feel for each other and get to know each other.”

“Every game, I’m not going to be able to just dominate the game. Its strategy. Teams aren’t going to let me kill them all the time. When I have my supporting cast helping me and they’re doing they thing, that’s just going to make the game easier for me. They focus on them and I can go right back to dominating the game. I need that from them on a more regular basis.”

The answer? Play the group that provides that help “on a more regular basis”. Play them together. As much as possible. Put that five on the floor to start. And maybe, when the rest of the Tigers start to see their minutes get cut, they’ll buy in.

Pastner’s right when he says that changes need to be made, that the Tigers are past the point of having team meetings.

But he needs to be the guy that creates the spark that leads to that change. He needs to get his team’s attention.

If they aren’t going to play his way, they aren’t going to play.

You’d be surprised how good of a motivator the bench can be.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

North Texas reaches NIT finals, shuts down Wisconsin 56-54

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Tylor Perry scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Rubin Jones scored all 12 of his after halftime and North Texas closed on a 10-0 run to beat Wisconsin 56-54 on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the NIT.

North Texas (30-7) advances to the program’s first NIT championship game on Thursday. Conference USA is now 16-1 this postseason.

North Texas, which trailed 41-29 at halftime, took its first lead of the game at 56-54 with 2:08 remaining on Moulaye Sissoko’s shot in the lane to cap a 10-0 run.

Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl missed two free throws with 49.1 seconds left and North Texas worked the clock down before Perry had it poked away. Wahl had a shot blocked at the rim, but Wisconsin secured the loose ball and called a timeout with 5.8 left. Wisconsin got it inside to Wahl but Sissoko knocked it away and dove on the ball to end it.

The Mean Green, the nation’s leader in scoring defense at 55.7 points per game, held Wisconsin without a point for the final 9:07 of the game. The Badgers made just one of their last 16 shots – with 10 straight misses.

Kai Huntsberry scored four of his 12 points in the game-closing run for North Texas, which extended its program record for wins this season.

Chucky Hepburn scored all 15 of his points in the first half for Wisconsin (20-15), which was making its first appearance in the NIT semifinals.

Wisconsin dropped to 13-8 this season in games decided by five points or fewer.


The semifinals and final are being played at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas after Madison Square Garden in New York hosted every year but two since 1938, with the 2020 tournament canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 event held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 2024 semifinals and final will be played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

LSU’s Mulkey senses reunion in trip to Texas for Final Four

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DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is returning to Texas for another Final Four, keenly aware that her LSU Tigers will play a short road trip from the school she made synonymous with women’s basketball.

Mulkey is the third coach to take multiple schools to the Final Four, doing so in her second season back in her home state of Louisiana after leading Baylor to the national semifinals four times in 21 seasons.

The Bears won three national championships under Mulkey, combined for 23 regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 Conference and made the NCAA Tournament in all but one of her seasons.

“You never spend 21 years of your life building a dynasty, and that’s what we did at Baylor. I think we can all agree with that,” Mulkey said Tuesday. “I still have a home there. My grandchildren are there. So my heart will always be there.”

Mulkey and the Tigers (33-2) will face first-time Final Four qualifier Virginia Tech (31-4) in the opener Friday night in Dallas, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Mulkey’s former college home in Waco. Defending champion South Carolina (36-0) plays Iowa (30-6) in the late game.

Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer took three teams to the Final Four, and Gary Blair made it that far with two.

Blair’s second was Texas A&M in 2011, when he won an Elite Eight showdown with Mulkey at American Airlines Center. Five years later in Dallas, the Bears again fell one win short of the Final Four.

Mulkey is back in Dallas with a new team after a 54-42 Elite Eight victory over Miami.

“There will be Baylor people sitting in my section that are heartbroken that I left,” Mulkey said. “I get it. Someday when I’m retired, maybe I’ll write another book and have more details, but I love Baylor University, the fans there, the Lady Bear fans there. But it was time. Timing is everything in life.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has fonder memories of the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The Gamecocks won their first national title there five years ago, beating Mississippi State after the Bulldogs ended Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in the semifinals.

“Dallas, it will be etched in my memory forever,” said Staley, whose team – the No. 1 overall seed – earned a return trip with an 86-75 victory over Maryland. “I remember vividly the police escorts. I remember our fans. I remember UConn losing. That was a huge moment in college women’s basketball.”

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks is a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he remembers seeing star quarterback Dak Prescott in the stands five years ago rooting for his alma mater, Mississippi State.

Prescott remembers the “huge moment” to which Staley referred. His reaction to Morgan William’s buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime made the rounds on social media five years ago.

“That was a surreal moment,” Brooks said. “But my surreal moment was last night.”

That’s when the No. 1 seed Hokies beat Ohio State 84-74 to reach their first Final Four in Brooks’ seventh season. Iowa, which beat Louisville 97-83 in the Elite Eight, has advanced this far for the first time since 1993, when Stringer became the first coach to lead multiple teams to the Final Four.

Stringer had done it with Cheyney in the inaugural tournament season of 1982, and after the Iowa trip, she went twice more with Rutgers in 2000 and 2007.

“She called me immediately after we beat Louisville,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In fact, she was my first voice message I got that night. I know coach Stringer is behind us. I haven’t been able to get back to her yet, but I will soon.”

Mulkey’s Bears were one of the top seeds in 2017, hoping to chase a title just up the road from their Waco campus. Mississippi State beat Baylor in overtime in the Elite Eight before the OT thriller against UConn.

The Tigers are this deep in the tournament for the first time since the last of five consecutive Final Four appearances in 2008, all of which ended in the semifinals.

Mulkey was asked if she felt the burden of living up to those glory years.

“We’ve already done that,” said Mulkey, who has now reached the NCAA Tournament in 19 consecutive seasons as a coach. “Winning a national championship will only put an exclamation mark on it. We have exceeded probably what anybody could just realistically say was possible this quickly.”

Black female athletes: Having Black female coach is crucial

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South Carolina senior guard Brea Beal knew she could trust Dawn Staley before she even suited up for the Gamecocks.

It wasn’t just Staley’s coaching accolades, which include fueling South Carolina’s meteoric rise in women’s basketball, that sold Beal. Beal knew that Staley – a Black woman like her – would best understand how to guide her as she navigated both life and playing basketball on a big stage.

“People that were telling me what this community was about, I know it’s somewhere I wanted to be,” Beal said. “As soon as I got here, she definitely led me down a journey so I could find out who I am.”

Black female representation in the coaching and sports administrative ranks has existed on a minute scale – even in a sport like basketball, which along with track and field has the highest concentration of Black female college athletes. Black female players who have been coached by a Black woman told The Associated Press that it was crucial to their development.

“There are some coaches who will just have all guys with no understanding that there are sometimes things that a young woman may need to talk to another woman about,” said Kiki Barnes, a former basketball player and jumper at New Orleans and current Gulf Coast Athletic Conference commissioner.

While the number of women coaching women’s sports has increased in the past decade, Black women continue to lag behind most other groups. During the 2021-22 school year, 399 Black women coached women’s NCAA sports teams in Divisions I, II and III, compared with 3,760 white women and 5,236 white men.

In women’s NCAA basketball, a sport made up of 30% Black athletes, Black women made up 12% of head coaches across all divisions during the 2021-22 season, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.

Fourteen Black women led women’s basketball teams across 65 Power Five programs this past season – up one from 2021. That’s less than 22% of the total in a sport that was played by more Black athletes (40.7%) than any other race in Division I, according to a report with data from the 2020-21 season.

For the first time in a decade, four Black coaches advanced to the Sweet 16 of the women’s basketball tournament, including Staley, who said she believes it’s more popular to hire a woman at “this stage of the game.”

“And it’s not to say that I’m going to sit here and male bash, because we have a lot of male coaches who have been in our game for decades upon decades,” said Staley, who will lead her team into the Final Four this weekend. “But I will say that giving women an opportunity to coach women and helping women navigate through life like they have navigated through life will allow your student-athletes a different experience than having a male coach.”

For years Staley has been an advocate for hiring more female coaches – especially minorities – in college basketball, but WNBA player Angel McCoughtry said Black female coaches as successful as Staley are still too few and far between in the sport.

“When I was getting recruited in high school, I don’t remember having a Dawn Staley to look up to,” said McCoughtry, who played at Louisville from 2005-09.

McCoughtry also named Carolyn Peck, the first African American woman to coach her team to an NCAA women’s basketball title in 1999 with Purdue, as another example of representation in the sport.

“So there’s one or two every decade,” McCoughtry said. “Why can’t we have 10? There’s 10 Caucasian coaches every decade.”

McCoughtry, a former No. 1 overall pick by the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, got used to being around people who didn’t look like or understand her. She is Black. Her AAU and high school coaches were Black men. Her college coaches were white men. Marynell Meadors, a white woman, was her first coach in Atlanta.

She has fielded frustrating questions from white peers, coaches and owners – like how often she washes her hair, or whether her passionate play was because she was from Baltimore.

“There’s just a disconnect in understanding things,” the 36-year-old said, adding: “We need more coaches to protect us.”

McCoughtry has never had a Black female head coach but did have the impactful guidance of Michelle Clark-Heard, a Black woman whom Jeff Walz brought on as an assistant when he took over at Louisville in 2008.

She also leaned on Tim Eaton, a Black assistant coach who she said advocated for her in her freshman year, when then-coach Tom Collen wanted to send her back to Baltimore because she was late to one of her first practices. Similarly, McCoughtry said, she felt she had less room to make mistakes than white teammates. When she questioned a coach, she was labeled a troublemaker; when she got fired up about a play, she was told she had a bad attitude.

“We just never had any inch to be human, like our Caucasian counterparts,” she said, adding: “But who understands that? Our Black coaches. Because they went through everything we went through. They have a story, too.”

Part of the reason for the lack of Black female coaches is because of who ultimately holds the power to hire, Barnes said. That’s often athletic directors, a level where there is an even greater lack of diversity – 224 of 350 in Division I are white men. Plus, she added, there are changing requirements for what it takes to get leadership opportunities.

“And now the system has changed to where now you’ve got to know search firms because now search firms are the ones that are managing and determining who gets these opportunities,” she said. “Every time we understand how to get in the room and what it takes to be prepared, it’s like the rules change.”

Barnes played high school basketball in her hometown of Minden, Louisiana, where she had an assistant coach who was a Black woman; Barnes still refers to her as “Coach Smith.”

“For her, it wasn’t just about basketball. It was about who I was as a young lady,” Barnes recalled, adding, “I would say it’s similar with a young woman wanting to talk to a mom about womanly things. It’s not that a man couldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t feel as comfortable talking to either my dad or any other man about woman things.”

Priscilla Loomis, a 2016 Olympic high jumper who is Black, said she became a coach to provide kids that look like her the representation the sport has lacked. NCAA track and field numbers mirrored women’s basketball numbers in 2021-22: 5% of head coaches were Black women, while 19% of women’s NCAA track and field athletes are Black.

“They want so badly to feel seen and to feel loved and to be given guidance,” Loomis said. “And so that’s why I always say it’s important to get women of color, men of color to the starting line, because a lot of times we’re so many steps behind.”

Auburn’s top ’22 hoops signee, Traore, plans to transfer

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AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn’s top signee from last year, center Yohan Traore, plans to transfer.

The five-star recruit from France, who played a limited role as a freshman, announced his plans in an Instagram post on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-10 Traore initially committed to LSU but landed at Auburn after the firing of coach Will Wade a little more than a year ago. He was rated the No. 24 overall recruit and No. 5 center according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Traore averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds after arriving from Dream City Christian School in Arizona.

Traore was a member of the U15 and U16 French National Team.

He played nine minutes in Auburn’s opening NCAA Tournament game against Iowa. Traore failed to score and didn’t play in the second-round loss to Houston.

Unbeaten Gamecocks, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark star in women’s Final Four


SEATTLE ⁠— An undefeated South Carolina team led by star Aliyah Boston and guided by vaunted Dawn Staley, an Iowa squad that features high-scoring Caitlin Clark and the return of LSU and flashy coach Kim Mulkey headline the women’s Final Four this weekend.

Virginia Tech is the newcomer to the group as the Hokies are making their first appearance in the national semifinals. Hokies coach Kenny Brooks became the third Black male coach to take a team to the Final Four in women’s basketball history.

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Dallas this week as the Division I, II and III championships will be held there. It’s only the second time that all three divisions will have their title games in the same place.

Staley and the Gamecocks are looking to become the 10th team to go through a season unbeaten and the first to repeat as champions since UConn won four in a row from 2013-16. South Carolina advanced to its third consecutive national semifinals and fifth since 2015 thanks to another superb effort by Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year. The three-time All-American had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Maryland on Monday night.

Next up for the Gamecocks is Iowa and the sensational Clark. She helped the Hawkeyes reach their first Final Four in 30 years with a game for the ages in the regional semifinals on Sunday night. The junior guard had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history in the win over Louisville.

The Gamecocks have the experience edge having reached the Final Four so often with this group. No one on Iowa’s roster was alive the last time the team advanced to the game’s biggest stage. C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of that team in 1993 that reached the Final Four before losing to Ohio State in overtime.

“It is like a storybook, but it’s kind of been like that for us all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I mean, we have had — honestly, we keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen and it is happening. But I’m so happy for Caitlin. I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four. And I’m saying, We can do it together. And she believed me. And so I’m very thankful for that.”

The other game will pit LSU against Virginia Tech. The Tigers are making their first trip to the national semifinals since 2008 when Sylvia Fowles dominated the paint. Now LSU is led by another stellar post player in Angel Reese.

She broke Fowles’ record for double-doubles in a season earlier this year and was key in the Tigers’ win over Miami in the Elite Eight.

Reese, who transferred in this season from Maryland, has made Mulkey’s second season at the school a special one. She came to LSU with a resume headlined by three NCAA titles from her time at Baylor along with some flamboyant sideline looks such as her silver-shimmering jacket with white pants that she wore in the Elite Eight game Sunday.

“What really makes me smile is not cutting that net down,” Mulkey said. “It’s looking around out there at all those LSU people, looking at that team I get to coach experience it for the first time.”

LSU’s opponent is also making its first appearance at the Final Four. The Hokies have had the best season in school history, winning the ACC crown as well under Brooks. He joined former Syracuse Quentin Hillsman and Cheyney State’s Winthrop “Windy” McGriff.

The significance has not been lost on Brooks, who hopes he can inspire other Black male coaches to get more opportunities.

The Hokies run to the national semifinals has been led by star post Elizabeth Kitley and sharpshooter Georgia Amoore. The pair combined for 49 points in the win over Ohio State in the Elite Eight.