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March 15, 2013
With Chris Crawford playing his best basketball of the season, No. 20 Memphis isn't showing many weaknesses in its final run at a Conference USA tournament title. The top-seeded Tigers certainly haven't slipped up very often against Tulsa over the past decade.
Red-hot Crawford and Memphis look to take another step toward their seventh tournament title in eight years on Friday night in the semifinals when they essentially play a road game versus the fifth-seeded Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa (17-14) rallied late for a 79-72 victory over fourth-seeded East Carolina in the quarterfinals on Thursday for its third win in four games.
Crawford, meanwhile, continued his late-season tear for the Tigers, setting career highs with 24 points and six 3-pointers on 13 attempts off the bench in an 81-68 victory over Tulane on Thursday.
The junior guard has scored 9.7 points per game on the season, but is averaging 19.5 points while hitting 17 of 31 from 3-point range over the last four games. Crawford has made a combined 11 3-pointers on the way back-to-back 20-point efforts.
"I'm so proud of Chris with his positive energy," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "That's why he's at a high level right now - a very, very high level.''
Sophomore Adonis Thomas added 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the rolling Tigers (28-4), who captured their 17th straight victory against league opponents this season and 22nd win in 23 overall.
Memphis, a founding member of C-USA in 1995, is hoping to close out its last conference tournament run with a third straight title before leaving for the revamped Big East for next season.
"It's just good to get that first one,'' Pastner said. "At this time of the year, it's just win, baby win, survive and advance.''
Now the Tigers will have to get past Tulsa for the second time this season and 15th in 16 meetings dating back to 2005-2006. They've won by an average of 16.0 points over the Golden Hurricane during that stretch.
Memphis raced out to a 17-point first-half advantage and cruised to a 94-64 home victory in the first meeting on Feb. 2.
Crawford had 12 and made 3-of-5 from 3-point range in that win, while junior Antonio Barton led the way with 16 for the Tigers. The reserve guards combined for seven 3-point field goals as Memphis sank 12-of-26 from beyond the arc in that meeting.
"Memphis is the best team in our league," said Tulsa coach Danny Manning. "They have the player of the year, coach of the year, defensive player of the year. There is not much more you can say. They are a talented team. We look forward to the challenge of going out and playing them."
Tulsa ranked third in the league in defensive 3-point field goal percentage (32.4), but has allowed its last two opponents to make 23 of 60 (38.3 percent) from that distance.
Senior Scottie Haralson finished with 22 points on Thursday and freshman James Woodard added 17 as the Golden Hurricane outscored the Pirates 54-42 in the second half.
Haralson, who had 13 points in the February loss to Memphis, enters this contest on a hot streak with 16.5 points per game over his last four.
"We are here at home, and we feed off of our crowd," said Haralson. "Memphis is a good team, and we have to give them credit for going undefeated in the league. We just have to do what we do best and play Tulsa basketball."
The defensive-minded Tigers, however, rank second in the conference in defensive field goal percentage (40.3) and held the Golden Hurricane to just 33.9 percent shooting in the first meeting.
Tulsa has been playing better lately, averaging 78.0 points and shooting 49.5 percent from the field in its last two games.
The Golden Hurricane have lost 20 straight against ranked opponents by an average of 16.3 points.
The winner will face either second-seeded Southern Miss or third-seeded UTEP in the championship game on Saturday.