Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - In a race to the finish line in the American Athletic Conference, the 21st-ranked SMU Mustangs put a four-game win streak on the line Thursday evening, as they take on the Memphis Tigers in a key conference clash at FedEx Forum.
Larry Brown's Mustangs have won four straight games and 12 of their last 13 to sit atop the AAC standings at an impressive 13-2. Unfortunately, they have some company atop the league as Tulsa is sporting an identical record heading down the homestretch. SMU is coming off last week's 67-58 win over Temple.
Josh Pastner's Tigers aren't mathematically out of the conference title picture at 9-5 in league play. Memphis has remained in the hunt thanks to wins in three straight games, including Sunday's 75-65 victory over UCF in overtime.
This marks the 18th all-time meeting between these two teams on the hardwood. Memphis has won 12 of the 17 previous matchups, but it is SMU seeking the regular-season sweep after posting a 73-59 victory in Dallas on Jan. 8.
SMU doesn't put up gaudy offensive numbers, but the team's 69.6 ppg gives the team enough of a cushion (+10.6 scoring margin) thanks to usually strong defensive play. The Mustangs, who shoot an effective .487 from the floor overall, are limiting the opposition to just 59.0 ppg and well under 40 percent shooting (.378). The straw that stirs the drink is junior guard Nic Moore, who can score (14.5 ppg) and distribute (leads the AAC at 5.4 apg) at a high rate. Senior center Yanick Moreira is a perfect complement with his interior game. The 6-11 big man is shooting a team-best .572 from the floor and is netting 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Junior forward Markus Kennedy (10.5 ppg) provides a spark off the bench.
In a key showdown with Temple last week, the Mustangs maintained their standing in the conference with a nine-point victory, but had to overcome a 10-point deficit in the second half to do it. SMU shot a steady .488 from the floor overall and outscored the Owls 20-8 from the free-throw line. Nic Moore led the charge once again offensively, finishing with 18 points. Cannen Cunningham chipped in with 10 points off the bench.
Memphis almost let one get away against UCF, going scoreless over the last 3:45 of regulation, as the Knights knotted things up and sent the game into overtime. The Tigers were able to dominate in the extra session however and earn a 10-point win. Austin Nichols led the way in the win with 20 points and seven rebounds. Kedren Johnson and Avery Woodson joined Nichols in double figures, with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Shaq Goodwin tallied eight points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for Memphis.
The Tigers are also not known as an offensive force. The team enters this game averaging a modest 67.9 ppg on .441 shooting. Nichols, a 6-9 sophomore, is shooting a healthy .503 from the floor and tops the team in scoring (13.7 ppg), while ranking second in rebounding (6.2 rpg). No other Tiger is currently in double digits in the scoring column, as Woodson (8.7 ppg), Goodwin (8.5 ppg) and Trahson Burrell (8.4 ppg) are all just under the mark. The 6-9 Goodwin is shooting .542 from the floor and leads the team in rebounding (7.0 rpg).