Their top scorer was in the locker room getting X-rays. The lead they'd been nursing was down to two points. And the other team's star player was finally rolling.
If the Memphis Tigers were going to crack, this was the time—especially because they were facing a formidable opponent for the first time since before Christmas.
John Calipari's bunch didn't budge. Not by a single point.
A deep, versatile Memphis club pulled together and shut out Nick Fazekas and Nevada over the final 6:17 Sunday, carrying the Tigers to a 78-62 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament and bumping the nation's longest winning streak to 24 in a row.
"When our leading scorer goes down and we come together like that, for a coach, that gets pretty emotional," Calipari said. "You look at us play and we swarmed and ran and covered for each other... I've got a good bunch of guys that are trying to do something unique."
Chris Douglas-Roberts led Memphis (32-3) with 16 points, but missed the final 8:11 with a left ankle sprain described by Calipari as mild-to-moderate. The Tigers overcame it thanks to the play at both ends of the court from guys such as Jeremy Hunt, Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier.
"We are a deep team," Anderson said. "When guys get their chance to play, they make the best of it and that is why we do what we do."
Hunt scored 16 points, Anderson had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Dozier had nine points, eight rebounds and most of the good defense on Fazekas. Backup point guard Andre Allen had yet another better-than-usual game in the NCAA tournament with 10 points and four assists, and bruising big man Joey Dorsey was aggressive as ever underneath.
Now Memphis, which made the round of 16 last year with a very different lineup, is headed to San Antonio for a South Regional showdown Thursday against third-seeded Texas A&M. Once again, it'll be the toughest test yet for a team that's beaten only five teams that made the NCAA field—counting the two they've already knocked off.
Calipari is hopeful Douglas-Roberts will be ready to face the Aggies.
"He said he's playing Thursday, but we don't know," Calipari said. "If he can't go, he can't go. In that kind of game, you can't be at 70 percent. I feel bad, but we don't know yet. Will they move the game to Friday to try to accommodate that? I don't think so."
Fazekas, the three-time Western Athletic Conference player of the year, missed his first six shots but finished 7-of-18 for 20 points with seven rebounds. Marcelus Kemp scored 18 and Denis Ikovlev had 11, going 3-of-4 on 3-pointers.
Already the leading scorer in school history, Fazekas, a senior, was trying to get Nevada (29-5) back to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since he was a freshman. It also would've put two teams from the state into the final 16 as UNLV advanced earlier Sunday.
Despite his slow start, the Wolf Pack were able to keep things close, partly because the Tigers missed lots of layups. Then Nevada started getting Fazekas the ball in better spots and the Wolf Pack became harder to shake.
Memphis began stretching its lead again when Douglas-Roberts went down, screaming in pain. He was lifted away by two burly teammates to chants of "CDR! CDR!" from the heavily pro-Tigers crowd.
Nevada made its move right away, getting a 3 from Ikovlev and a pair of free throws from Fazekas. Suddenly, Memphis' lead was down to 64-62.
The Tigers made things worse with turnovers on their next two trips. The Wolf Pack did the logical thing by going to Fazekas both times.
But he let them down both times.
First he traveled when swarmed by another of the double-teams he'd faced all game. Then he missed about a 3-footer in transition, a play that became even more regrettable when Kemp got his fourth foul on the rebound. Fazekas doubled over in the lane in anger, then shouted as he walked away.
"It's a shot that I make nine out of 10 times," Fazekas said. "If that shot would have went there's no telling what could have happened. We were forced to foul and maybe we ran out of gas."
They certainly ran out of points. Nevada never scored again, missing its final seven shots, five of them 3-pointers. They also had two turnovers.
"I thought what happened to our defense was, we thought, `Uh-oh, we could lose this thing,"' Calipari said. "We turned it up a notch."
The biggest surprise was that Memphis sealed the game with free throws.
The Tigers came in making only 61 percent—worst among all tournament teams and near the bottom of all 336 Division I schools. It was such a problem Calipari stopped having his team practice foul shots and told guys to visualize swishes instead. The gimmick obviously worked as Memphis went 26-of-34 from the line, a 76.4-percent success rate that was among the best of the season.
"One of the things we'll do tonight on the plane is all shoot 20 free throws with our eyes closed," Calipari said. "Hopefully we're up to making 16 or 17 of them."