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Rose blooms at perfect time for Tigers

HOUSTON — John Calipari has a good reason for calling his Memphis Tigers a "Dream Team" — a kid from Chicago who wears No. 23 and makes plays that bring fans out of their seats.

With freshman Derrick Rose soaring and scoring, Memphis ended two years of regional final failure and routed Texas 85-67 Sunday to reach the Final Four. The victory backed up the Tigers' season-long reign near the top of the poll and made them the third of four No. 1 seeds headed to San Antonio.

Rose had 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, outplaying Texas star D.J. Augustin and leading the Tigers (37-1) into a national semifinal Saturday against a UCLA team making its third straight Final Four appearance.

Memphis and UCLA met in the regional finals two years ago and in the 1973 title game, with the Bruins winning both.

"I'm living a dream right now," Rose said.

Rose took the doubt out of this one in the first half, making a Michael Jordanesque layup as part of his 4-for-4 start, blocking an open-court layup by Augustin and throwing a long pass for a thunderous dunk by Joey Dorsey among his four early assists.

The Tigers were up 29-13 after 12 minutes, with Rose accounting for more points than Texas (31-7) scored.

The Longhorns slowed Rose for only about a minute — when he got poked on the cut above his right eye, forcing him to the bench for a new tape and glue job. No stitches, though; despite all his tattoos, needles creep him out.

Rose finished 7-of-10 and was voted the most outstanding player of the South Regional. The game ended with him getting one last assist of sorts — generously bouncing the ball to a Texas player for the final seconds.

When the horn went off, Rose tugged at the Memphis on his jersey and gestured to the few Tigers fans. They soon were chanting "One more year!," in hopes that he might not turn pro.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, a Naismith Award finalist, led Memphis with 25 points, with 14 coming on free throws. Joey Dorsey provided 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Shawn Taggart added 12 points. Antonio Anderson had nine points and four assists.

Rose and his teammates already are in elite company. Their 37th win matched an NCAA Division I record held by four other teams, and it was their 103rd victory over the last three seasons, the second-best run by any program.

If the Tigers can win it all, they'll hold both marks. That would take a lot of the sting off the last two years, when Memphis was knocked out a game shy of the Final Four.

Despite being labeled the top seed most likely to lose, Memphis has hardly been tested in the tournament. There was a three-point win in the second round, but that was only because of a late flourish by Mississippi State in the second round. This was the closest of the other games — and, of course, it wasn't really close.

"There have been some doubters, but that's OK," Calipari said.

The Longhorns got a 17-point deficit down to 11 at halftime, then got within 39-34 early in the second half. But their lack of size — and the lack of an answer for Rose — ended any hopes of a second Final Four trip in six seasons and a short drive to San Antonio.

Although the Longhorns were the lower seed, having this game in Houston gave them a heavy homecourt advantage. But even that didn't help much Sunday.

With Texas trailing 34-20 late in the first half, about a dozen fans tried getting some spirit going. Their call-and-response chant of "Texas! Fight!" took a while to build steam — and once it did, the Memphis band drowned it out. With 1:01 left, some Tigers backers got a cheer of "Final Four" going.

Last year, Memphis' title hopes ended in San Antonio with a regional final loss to Ohio State. The Tigers have been reminded of it by a "Remember the Alamodome" sign back home.

Now the Tigers are returning, with a chance to make a great memory in that building.

They bring an interesting collection of guys: Rose and Dorsey, a 24-year-old Ben Wallace wannabe, escaped rough neighborhoods in Chicago and Baltimore. Douglas-Roberts is from Detroit. The other starters are from Georgia and Illinois. Only three reserves are from Tennessee.

And, of course, they're cajoled as much as coached by Calipari, who made a name for himself with Marcus Camby and UMass in the mid-'90s, struggled during his 21/2; seasons in the NBA and now is back atop his profession working in Elvis' hometown.

Calipari is quite the program pitchman, but he knew Rose made this his best group yet. It was harder for him to lash out at critics considering Memphis opened the season ranked third, moved to second and spent five weeks at No. 1.

Calipari not only considers these guys a "Dream Team," he's even given them a poem explaining why it's true.

While Rose is the obvious difference between this Memphis team and the ones that fell short of the Final Four, basketball aficionados also know about the Dribble Drive Motion offense and a steal-seeking defense that Calipari has installed.

One thing that hasn't changed is their wretched foul shooting.

Or has it? The Tigers made about 75 percent in the regional semifinal and were 30-of-36 this time.