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Frosh perspective (cont.)

Posted: Friday November 25, 2005 11:24PM; Updated: Friday November 25, 2005 11:47PM
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It wasn't his only clutch play with the game on the line. Moments earlier, with the Blue Devils leading 67-63, Shawne Williams found himself alone on the break following a steal by Anderson, but with Duke's behemoth Williams blocking his path to the basket. Did he back off? Nah. The Memphis freshman took it right at the Blue Devils senior, sinking a short, running jumper over him with surprising ease.

"He's a big-game player," said Carney, who himself kept the Tigers in the game by holding Duke All-American J.J. Redick scoreless after halftime. "[Williams] is a freshman, but he's played like a senior."


Age-wise, Williams, who turns 20 in February, technically isn't a freshman. A top-five national prospect headed into the '03-04 season at Memphis' Hamilton High School, Williams transferred in February to prep-school powerhouse Larinburg (N.C.) Institute, which he led to the prep school national championship last season. A 6-foot-8, 225-pound specimen who can both get to the glass and nail shots from the outside (he hit 5-of-5 from behind the arc in the first half against UCLA), Williams announced at one point last spring he was entering the NBA draft, but he never formally applied, bucking the trend of other recent Calipari recruits Amare Stoudemire, Qyntel Woods and Kendrick Perkins.

His decision to come to college gives Calipari, who in five seasons has reached three NIT Final Fours but won just one NCAA tournament game, his best chance yet at delivering Memphis fans the kind of season they crave. Excitement surrounding the program is high, with former star Penny Hardaway, now with the Knicks, attending Friday night's game and visiting the Tigers' locker room afterward.

Memphis had more talent and athleticism than its top-ranked opponent Friday. The difference between the Tigers and Duke -- and between Duke and a lot of people these days -- is experience. With the game on the line, the Blue Devils could count on four-year starter Williams to make play after play, and it was another senior, Sean Dockery, who hit a crucial 3 and a free throw in the final moments. After Dockery missed his free-throw attempt with 9.5 seconds left, however, Memphis put the ball in the hands of a freshman -- Williams -- for its final shot.

"We have guys that just haven't played together," said Calipari. "We're just trying to figure things out."

Count Williams as one guy who's already got things figured out.