The Boston Globe - game recap
MHERST -- Both teams know there's an invite to the NCAA tournament with their names written on it. A win or loss here will not make or break their seasons. But there are many other factors that will make tonight's Atlantic 10 Conference tournament final an intense, competitive matchup.
For years, Temple was the league's marquee team, the biggest draw on the road, the toughest opponent year in, year out. In 1986-88, the Owls became the only Atlantic 10 team ever to win back-to-back regular-season and tournament titles, further entrenching their dominance.
Now 20th-ranked and top-seeded Massachusetts (22-6) could become the second Atlantic 10 team to accomplish that feat. The Minutemen will take a run at it tonight at the Mullins Center at 9:30. Standing in UMass' way? Third-seeded Temple (17-11).
"Just like in our semifinal game with Rhode Island, we know we're in the NCAA tournament whether we win or not," said UMass coach John Calipari yesterday. "This game is about pride, about showing we're the top team in this league.
"Temple is tough. They're probably the only team in our league we have a losing record to since I've been here. They have beaten us handily, be it at home or on the road."
That has changed in recent years; although UMass is 0-12 at Temple and 0-2 in postseason against the Owls, the Minutemen have won their past two home meetings, both at Curry Hicks Cage.
Temple and UMass are clearly the most dominant programs in the league in the last five years, each making the final three times (more than any other team). Both have rosters studded with underclassmen, and have seen their teams go through up-and-down periods this season.
"We've had stretches where I've said, 'What manner of a team is this?' " said Temple coach John Chaney, whose team started 8-3, then lost six of its next seven. "We've always been able to win the ugly games, and now we're winning the pretty ones. I prefer the ugly games because when you're able to win the ugly games, you can deal with the good times."
Temple is sparked by league player of the year Aaron McKie, who led the Atlantic 10 in scoring (20.5 points per game). The teams split regular-season meetings, with the Owls winning, 52-44, in Philadelphia and the Minutemen prevailing, 52-50, on a Tony Barbee put-back at the buzzer in Amherst.
"John Chaney and assistant coach Jim Maloney have done an excellent job this season," said Calipari. "They have gotten their team ready when everyone wrote them off. Chaney taught the rest of us how important scheduling is. They came up with big wins. They had big wins against Memphis State and Tulane."
Chaney says UMass makes the most of the team concept. "That club has done a great job . . . in using the proper elements," he said. "Derek Kellogg gets the job done for them. Harper Williams is someone my players can't find on the floor; they don't know where he is. Tony Barbee struggles sometimes, but he can give them a clutch bucket when it counts. They are excellent at working the team element. The toughest team for us to play is one that plays like we try to play, and they do that."
Both teams also have suffered significant injuries. Temple has had to adjust without guard Vic Carstarphen, who injured his left fibula Dec. 26 against Cincinnati. He played one minute in the season finale against Rutgers and one minute in the Owls' semifinal win over St. Joseph's Monday. UMass is without guard Mike Williams, who broke a hand in a loss to West Virginia Feb. 27 and may not return this season.
"We need Jerome Malloy to have a good game if we are to do well from this point on," said Calipari after Malloy got 10 points against URI Monday. "If Jerome has a bad game, we're going to lose."
MHERST -- John Calipari stood before his team, doling out accolades like a card dealer in a round of poker. Massachusetts had just defeated Temple, 69-61, last night for its second consecutive Atlantic 10 tournament championship. Coach Cal, half drenched with sweat, praised Tony Barbee for his efforts. Then Lou Roe. Harper Williams. Jerome Malloy.
Then a short pause. "You know what, guys?" he said. "If we keep rebounding like this, it's scary how far we can go. It's scary."
Temple's lineup is much taller than the Minutemen's, but just like many other UMass foes, the Owls were dominated on the boards. When UMass pulls down rebounds the way it did in the final, it usually means the Minutemen are hungry, playing at a level of aggressiveness few teams can match. They apply that to the defensive end and shut offenses down. They step things up offensively, and 3-point shots fall from all angles, even off the backboard. They snatch the ball from opponents' hands, block shots from bad angles. And when the game is over, they usually have more points.
That's what happened last night as Temple (17-12) jumped out to a 40-34 lead with 16:52 left, then was outscored, 26-10, over the next 11 minutes as UMass seized a 60-48 lead with 4:45 to go. Then UMass, the regular-season league champ, survived several Temple rallies. UMass improved to 23-6, earned its second consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and gave Calipari his 100th career victory. Temple will likely earn an NCAA bid as an at-large selection.
"It was nice to win my 100th, but that stuff doesn't matter to me," said Calipari. "Hey, I have never taken a shot and I have never defended one. These guys, they've won the 100 games."
Leading the way to win No. 100 was senior Williams, who scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and became the first Atlantic 10 player to win two tourney most valuable player awards. Malloy followed with 17 points, including five 3-point baskets, three of which kept UMass close in the first half when the Minutemen weren't shooting well. Roe had 10 points and 14 boards.
UMass staged an intimidating display of defensive intensity that led to several points on offense in the second half. Temple had quieted the partisan crowd when Rick Brunson hit a 3-point basket with 16:52 left for a 40-34 lead.
Then UMass staged its run. Williams began the surge with four free throws. Dana Dingle scored on a bank shot after a feed from Williams. Williams followed with back-to-back buckets, the first on a feed from Roe, the second from Malloy. Williams hit one free throw with 11:12 left, making the score 45-40.
But it wasn't over. Barbee hit a 3-point basket with 10:10 left, giving the Minutmen a 48-40 lead. Eddie Jones ended Temple's drought with a bucket, but Malloy followed with a 3-pointer that gave UMass a 51-42 lead with 9:30 left.
"Temple is the kind of team that will keep banging and banging at you," said Williams. "We had them off balance, so we wanted to keep it going. We did it with our defense."
UMass upped its lead to 12 before Temple mounted its rally. The Owls stepped up the defensive pressure and took advantage of missed UMass shots to chip away at the lead. Brunson hit a 3-point basket with 3:33 left, pulling the Owls within 7 (60-53). Jones hit one free throw, Roe scored on a feed from Barbee and Brunson drilled a 3 with 1:15 left, pulling Temple within 5 (62-57). Temple got as close as 64-61 with 31 seconds left, but UMass hit key free throws the rest of the way.
"When we started hitting 3s, I thought we were still in the game," said Brunson. "Then they started missing foul shots, but then they'd get the rebound, and that's what hurt us."