No. 21 Memphis to test mettle vs. No. 23 Wichita St.
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A marquee matchup in the American Athletic Conference takes center stage Thursday as No. 23-ranked Wichita State hosts a No. 21-ranked Memphis team coming off just its second loss of the season.
The Tigers (12-2, 1-0 AAC) faced a one-game layoff in conference play over the weekend, hosting Georgia of the Southeastern Conference. Playing without D.J. Jeffries, Memphis endured a lengthy scoring drought late in the game and suffered its first loss since Nov. 12.
Jeffries' absence loomed large for a Tigers team already short-handed with the suspension and subsequent withdrawal of highly touted freshman center James Wiseman.
"I hate playing five or six guys so many minutes," Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in his postgame press conference. "Precious (Achiuwa), Boogie (Ellis), Damion (Baugh), Lester (Quinones) and (Alex Lomax) played the bulk of the minutes."
If Memphis was tired down the stretch, it showed. The Tigers did not make a field goal for more than four minutes to close the 65-62 loss.
Heading into Thursday's Top 25 showdown with conference counterpart Wichita State, the flu bug that sidelined Jeffries might again play a factor.
"(Jeffries) came in and was feeling a little better, but we just told him to go home and get another day's rest," Hardaway told reporters on Tuesday, but added that Baugh missed Monday and Tuesday practice with the virus.
Baugh and Jeffries are roommates.
Jeffries is Memphis' second-leading scorer at 12.0 points per game, and contributes to the Tigers' outstanding defensive numbers with 1.3 blocked shots per game.
Baugh is also key to the defense with 1.3 steals per game, making him one of five Tigers to average at least one steal per game. Ellis and Lomax each average 1.8, and Achiuwa averages 1.2 in addition to his 1.6 blocked shots per game.
Defensive prowess promises to factor prominently into Thursday's matchup with a red-hot Wichita State bunch.
The Shockers (13-1, 1-0) extended their winning streak to seven games on Saturday. Wichita State routed Ole Miss, 74-54, marking a fourth consecutive game and 12th this season in which it held its opponent under 70 points.
"We (really) limited their two guards. It was probably the best backcourt that we've played all year," Wichita State guard Grant Sherfield said of the Ole Miss backcourt. "So the mindset was just coming in and just trying to slow down the guards as much as possible."
Wichita State held Ole Miss to 4-of-18 shooting from behind the 3-point line, and 16 of 52 from the floor altogether.
Erik Stevenson keys the Shockers' on-ball defense with two steals per game. His efforts leading Wichita State's perimeter defense will be critical against a Memphis offense that thrives when it can feed Achiuwa in the post.
Bringing Quinones back from a hand injury that sidelined him for a month adds an additional ball-handler for Memphis.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 8, 2020