OAKLAND, Calif. – Rodney Carney counts on his first dunk of a game igniting his teammates’ intensity.
He dunked all right, he jumped in the passing lanes on defense, and Carney kept top-seeded Memphis from becoming another victim of Bradley’s surprising NCAA run.
Carney contributed on both ends of the floor Thursday, scoring 23 points and leading a stingy defense that gave Memphis an 80-64 victory and put the Tigers in the regional final for the first time since 1992 – back when Anfernee Hardaway was their star.
“That’s what my dunks do,” said Carney, who added three steals. “I spark the team with run-through dunks. It gives the team intensity. I want to dunk on 7-foot guys.”
Darius Washington Jr. added 18 points and Shawne Williams had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as Memphis won the third round of the Oakland Regional for its seventh straight victory.
Carney raised his arms in the air in celebration after a two-handed jam midway through the second half, one of several emphatic dunks by the 6-foot-7 forward who was nearly unknown when he first arrived at Memphis. Now, he is one win from finishing his stellar collegiate career in his hometown of Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Coach John Calipari’s young Tigers (33-3), an NIT team last season, advanced to Saturday’s regional final against UCLA. The Tigers beat UCLA early this season.
“We really guarded. We rebounded in the second half, and my stars were stars – all three of them,” Calipari said. “We’re pretty good when that happens. … Your senior better do his thing, and he’s doing it.”
Patrick O’Bryant had 11 of his 14 rebounds in the first half and only scored eight points for Bradley (22-11), which at No. 13 was the lowest seed still in the tournament. The Braves will return home to another hero’s welcome after they turned the program into a household name and brought national attention to their town of Peoria, Ill.
“I think we put Bradley basketball back on the map,” O’Bryant said.
The Braves had been the NCAA spoiler so far after beating Kansas and Pittsburgh to reach their first regional semifinal since 1955 when it was 24-team tournament, but they began the second half 4 for 16 and struggled to get open looks at the basket against speedy, aggressive Memphis.
The Tigers took Bradley right out of its preferred half-court offense.
“They wanted to run, and we run,” Washington said. “That’s Memphis basketball.”
Bradley committed 14 first-half turnovers, then took better care of the ball after halftime but couldn’t make shots.
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