MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Tigers (20-6, 10-3) are fighting for their lives at a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and every game becomes more crucial down the stretch. The raised stakes make Thursday night’s last second thriller even more important.
"Damaria with the biggest steal of the game, biggest steal of the year and the biggest finish of the year," said Hardaway. He described the steal and layup that helped Memphis seal the win over UCF.
Franklin wasn’t thinking about the whole year when he scored that layup, just the now.
"Making the layup, that was the only thing going through my head right now," Franklin said. "Just keep a clear mind and keep playing. Everybody didn’t know we were going to get the steal at the time. Just keep playing till the buzzer."
The reality of the Tigers "now" is they are in a precarious situation when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. At 20-6, they now have a 6-3 record in Quad 2 games and 7-1 in Quad 3 games. UCF would have been a Quad 2 loss.
At this stage, a loss to anyone except #2 Houston (a Quad 1 game) would have Memphis really sweating on Selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament. Franklin’s layup might have saved the season, at least for now. They can control their own destiny by winning out the last five games of the year, including two Quad 1 opportunities against Houston.
As of Friday, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had Memphis as one of the last four byes, making them an 11-seed in the Greensboro region of the NCAA tournament bracket. CBS Sports' Jerry Palm has Memphis in Birmingham as a nine seed. Neither of them are the end-all, be-all, but they are good indicators of where the Tigers stand.
Winning could get really tough moving forward. In fact, Memphis may have to take on their toughest opponent, Houston, without their best player - Kendric Davis.
"I think everybody’s wondering how bad it was," said Franklin. "Davis is the player of year of the conference so he’s a really big piece of the team."
Davis hurt his ankle with four minutes left in the first half, an ankle he’s hurt before. He watched the rest of the UCF game in a boot. Tiger nation holds their breath for his return, but Penny Hardaway says all hope is not loss for Sunday.
"He's a tough kid, he's going back home (to Houston). I don't know how bad it really is," Hardaway said, noting that Davis' boot was precautionary.
Hardaway said he'd experienced similar reoccurring injuries in his own playing career.
"When you turn it over like that it hurts as if it was done the same way. The pain, you can’t take it that night. Get a couple days and you recover from it so I’m hoping that’s what happens with him," Hardaway said.
If Davis can't go how does Memphis win without their AAC Player of the Year? They are already missing starters Alex Lomax and Malcolm Dandridge.
"I don’t know. I’ll have to junk the game up defensively. Offensively, we have to space the floor up and be basketball players," Hardaway said.
The injury bug bit Memphis several times this year. Hardaway noted several times earlier in the year, the team's struggles were related to players being out for nagging injuries. Davis included.
Next man up has been the mantra all year, but the Tigers are down both their primary ball handlers. It led to 24 turnovers against the Knights in the one point win.
"We don’t know who we’re going to have as a group, but we’ve got to be ready to compete regardless of who’s out there, and just compete for 40 minutes against Houston," said Elijah McCadden.
The Tigers face Houston Sunday at 2pm. They have five games remaining before the conference tournament.