AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — The questions come seemingly every year for Memphis around this time.
After rolling through Conference USA, the Tigers arrive at the NCAA tournament and a skeptical public wonders whether they've really been tested during the regular season.
Coach Josh Pastner has heard just about enough.
"To say that we haven't been battle tested is ridiculous," Pastner said Wednesday. "We've won 26 straight Conference USA games. Every time we step on the floor, we get everyone's best shot. That means if we're playing East Carolina, they have a gold-out. If we're playing Marshall they have a green-out."
The easiest way for Memphis to silence the doubters would be to win in the NCAA tournament, and that's a goal that's been elusive of late. When the sixth-seeded Tigers take on 11th-seeded Saint Mary's on Thursday, they'll be trying for their first victory in the tournament since 2009, when John Calipari was still coach.
Standing in the way are the Gaels, who are unbeaten since December against everyone but Gonzaga. Saint Mary's (28-6) beat Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night to advance to the round of 64.
"We know it's just going to be a physical game, just like Middle Tennessee," Saint Mary's guard Stephen Holt said. "In the tough games in a tournament like this, that's what it comes down to, is consistency, getting stops and just playing hard and aggressive and making plays."
Memphis reached the NCAA title game in 2008 and went to the round of 16 the following year. Pastner took over after Calipari's departure and has gone 61-13 in Conference USA games, including the league's tournament.
In 2011, the Tigers were a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament and lost their opener. They lost again last year as a No. 8 seed.
"I recognize people are going to be on me if we don't advance in the tournament. I recognize that, but I'm OK with that," Pastner said. "If you ask anyone in our business, in our profession — in fact, (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo said it on CBS when they were playing Ohio State — a true measure of a team is what you do during your conference play. That's a tremendous measure if you've had a successful season or not because it's over a two-and-a-half, three-month period."