March 19, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - After battling heartbreak and tragedy just to reach the NCAA tournament, the Matadors of Cal State-Northridge ran into the greatest game of Roburt Sallie's life.

Finally, something proved too much to overcome.

Sallie, averaging 4.5 points all year for Memphis, hit 10 3-pointers and scored 35 as the second-seeded Tigers beat the plucky Matadors 81-70 Thursday, dodging what would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

"Coach said keep shooting," said Sallie, whose previous career high was 13. "None of my teammates would ever expect me to score 35 points. I never made 10 3-pointers before."

Neither did anyone else in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Sallie's onslaught erased the first-round record and enabled Memphis (32-3) to avoid the stigma of being just the fifth No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 15 since the tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985.

"I've had 13 points in four games in the morning before," Sallie said, "but I remained focused and stayed awake."

The Matadors (17-14) concentrated their defense on Memphis' more accomplished shooters and seized a six-point lead with a little more than 10 minutes to play, bringing a roar from a capacity crowd that had quickly become enchanted with the 19-point underdogs.

"Obviously, we didn't anticipate what Sallie was going to do today," said Northridge coach Bobby Braswell.

Sallie kept Cal State-Northridge at bay during a lackluster first half that earned the Tigers, last year's national runners-up, a halftime tongue-lashing.

"I called it arrogance at halftime," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "My job is to keep their swagger, but it moved into arrogance."

The Matadors, who lost one of their top players in a traffic accident during the season and another to a burglary charge, never seemed intimidated and led most of the second half.

The crowd went crazy when Vincent Cordell's bucket put the Matadors up 62-56. But then Sallie hit another 3-pointer and Antonio Anderson, hardly a factor most of the game, launched a decisive 9-0 run that saved the favorites.

Sallie's 10 3-pointers surpassed the first-round record of nine, set by Michigan's Garde Thompson in 1987. At one point in the first half Sallie scored 11 straight points for the Tigers, and hit his first five shots from beyond the arc.

The Tigers were trailing 64-61 when Anderson, who had three fouls and one point early in the second half, finally came to life. The shorter Matadors missed five straight shots and failed to pull down a single offensive rebound, and Anderson's bucket made it 64-63.

Then the 6-6 senior hit a 6-footer to put the Tigers on top to stay.

In a back-and-forth flurry midway through the second half, freshman guard Tyreke Evans put in a bucket and was fouled, and made the free throw for a 56-55 Memphis lead. But Willie Galick quickly erased that with two foul shots for the Matadors.

"Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier weren't as good as they usually are. But at this point, we're just trying to march on," Calipari said.

Anderson's bad pass turned the ball back to Northridge and Rodrique Mels sank a 3-pointer, then following another turnover, Cordell's bucket gave the Matadors a 62-56 lead.

Mels led five players in double figures for the Matadors. Kenny Daniels and Tremaine Townsend each had 14, Mark Hill added 13 and Galick 12.

Evans, the Memphis freshman who replaced Derrick Rose, the No. 1 overall pick in the last NBA draft, finished with 15 points and Anderson wound up with 13.

"Our point was to pressure Dozier inside and force other guys to hit shots," Braswell said. "I have no problem with it, because my focus in practice was to force them to take contested shots. And I believe most of (Sallie's) shots were contested. He stepped up and made big plays. I ran into Callipari and he said that was his best game he's ever played. He made some big shots and you have to give them credit for that."