ESPNET SportsZone - Dick Vitale preview
ESPNET SportsZone - Padilla/Travieso look
Pre-game Press Conference
The Associated Press
The Associated Press - column
Post-game Press Conference
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe - Ryan column
The Boston Globe - Shaughnessy column
The Boston Globe - SporTView
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe - Ryan column
The Boston Globe - Camby focus
The Boston Globe - notebook
The Boston Globe - Nuņez focus
The Boston Globe - Giddel Padilla focus
The Boston Globe - Calipari focus
EW YORK -- John Calipari is a great story ... he can flat-out coach. What he has accomplished at Massachusetts is one of the greatest achievements in the history of college basketball, in terms of building a program. He is truly a Frank Lloyd Wright.
Flash back to April 25, 1988, when he was named coach of the Minutemen. He took over a program that used to be in the Yankee Conference, and taken the people of Amherst on a ride. Now Massachusetts challenges all the big boys as a Rolls Royce program.
It is an amazing story as he shows his toughness and mental tenacity. He has handled adversity all season long, from Marcus Camby's collapse to a difficult schedule. Consider how tough his schedule was: Kentucky, Wake Forest, Maryland, Georgia Tech and on and on.
More importantly, coach Calipari represents what teaching is all about. He is more concerned with teaching than the W's and L's. He refused to put pressure on his team this season.
Ricky Pitino created the biggest problem for himself. Think about when a 29-year-old kid came strolling in to talk about the Massachusetts coaching position. Pitino was on his alma mater's committee to choose a new coach of the Minutemen.
The current Kentucky coach even threw in $5,000 of his own money because he was so excited about hiring this guy. That money helped seal the deal because it looked like Massachusetts might look elsewhere.
Reflect back on that moment now. John Calipari, who attended Clarion State, was a pretty good candidate.
Coach Pitino, you served your alma mater well, baby! All that you've done is placed in front of you the biggest obstacle from the coaching dream of a lifetime--winning a national title.
Mr. Calipari, you're a PTP'er. Even if Massachusetts loses, the school is now in the Rolls Royce class of college basketball.
And Pitino is one person the school should thank.
Backcourt reflects Calipari's personality
When you look at Carmelo Travieso and Edgar Padilla, you can see how they reflect the personality of their coach. It's more than just the "Refuse to Lose" mentality. No other backcourt in America plays the game the way they do.
Travieso and Padilla, both born on May 9, 1975 in Puerto Rico, hook up together to make a great combination. The duo understands tempo, defense, spacing, shot selection and how to win. What separates them is the desire to win and it spreads to their teammates.
The Travieso-Padilla combination reminds me of a backcourt pairing of 20 years ago: Indiana's tandem of Bobby Wilkerson and Quinn Buckner provided leadership and tough defense. That Hoosiers team was the last one to finish the season unbeaten. Massachusetts cannot accomplish that feat (a perfect season), but a good weekend at the Meadowlands would put this team in the company with some of the great teams in the sport's history.
But first, there's a Kentucky team to worry about!
AST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- They are more than just teammates. They are amigos -- friends. And they are countrymen, two young athletes who verify once more that when it comes to skill and dedication, no nation has an advantage over any other.
That Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso would end up as the starting guards for the University of Massachusetts in the Final Four is a tale built as much on pursuit of the American Dream as it is on coincidence and plain dumb luck.
"Our relationship is special," confirmed Travieso the day before UMass met Kentucky in a game that promised to be special.
Said Padilla: "We come from the same background."
If he means being born in Puerto Rico on the same day -- May 9, 1975 -- or needing to conquer difficult circumstances on the bumpy road of life, then the statement is more or less true. But while Travieso and Padilla are in some ways similar, in other ways they are quite different.
Travieso, 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, is the shooter, the guy who gets the 3-pointers when Marcus Camby is being swallowed by a zone. He arrived Dorchester, Mass., when he was only 4. His English offers only the slightest hint of his background.
Padilla, 6-2 and 175, is the passer, the guy who gets the ball to Camby, Travieso or when the situation dictates into the basket. He was already 14 when he followed an older brother to Springfield, Mass. He speaks with more heavily accented English, which is completely understandable -- and, yes, that can be interpreted in more than one way.
"The coach talks about breaking barriers," Travieso said, alluding to man of the minute for the Minutemen, John Calipari. All well and good for the guards, who one way or another have broken a great many barriers on their way to success.
"I don't think it's ever happened," says Padilla, "to have two Hispanics play in the backcourt of a top-five program."
Edgar Padilla is the son of deaf parents. Growing up impoverished in Puerto Rico, he hung paint cans in which to shoot tennis balls. His idol was a brother two-and-a-half years his elder, Giddel, who was so proficient at hoops he moved in Massachusetts with an aunt and uncle in an attempt to get a college scholarship.
And he earned one, at UMass, and not long after, Edgar, who showed up at Springfield Central High with an English vocabulary of only a few words, would in time earn his own scholarship. And surpass his sibling who now sits on the Massachusetts bench.
Carmelo Travieso's parents were Dominicans who had traversed the Caribbean to Puerto Rico where he was born. Then a divorce sent Carmen Pena, his mother, and her four small offspring including Carmelo to the gritty suburbs of Boston. As Padilla, Travieso learned basketball by improvising, using wire coat hangers or milk crates as baskets.
His break came when the elite Thayer Academy provided a $40,000 scholarship to attend the private prep school, a remarkable contrast to his boyhood years when the family had so little money it often had to choose between heat and food. And Carmelo often slept in a parka to stay warm.
Padilla and Travieso met for the first time at a basketball camp in California before their senior year in high school. Padilla committed first to UMass. Travieso signed on a brief while later.
"Trying to meet with the families of both was unusual," recalled Calipari. "Because Edgar's parents are deaf, we had to go through the sister with sign language. And in Carmelo's house, the older brother (Dixon) translated to the mother because I don't use good enough Spanish."
He obviously uses good enough recruiting methods. And motivational ones as well.
When Travieso was a freshman, Calipari told him if he didn't play defense he wouldn't play. Carmelo and Padilla are now recognized for their ability to pressure the ball and thwart entry passes to the low post.
When Camby collapsed in January from an affliction doctors still have not diagnosed, the guards raised their level of play. Undefeated at the time, Massachusetts simply kept winning without its big man.
"Edgar started giving me the ball a little more and told me to look for my shots just to see what could happen," said Travieso. "That's when I started getting confident."
Padilla's confidence came earlier in the season. It had to. In what would be described as an exhibition opener, against the Converse All-Stars, Padilla, starting as point guard for the first time, literally couldn't handle the ball. Then, next time out, against Kentucky, he had six assists -- and six turnovers.
"I was thinking I couldn't do it," said Padilla. "But we started working together. The end of the season, against Georgetown and Arkansas, we showed what we can do against a press."
Reminded Travieso: "That's what happens when you mature."
Everybody grows. In sport as in life, only a few grow up.
Art Spander, a longtime columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, contributes regularly to ESPNET SportsZone.
OACH CALIPARI: Well, we've pretty much did our thing this week preparing for the game and now we're going to let it go, let it fly, see what happens. If they're knocking threes down through the rafters and off banners, we go home 35-2. I think the kids are ready for the challenge, even though we know it's a big, big challenge for us to play with them and win the game.
Q. John, could you talk a little bit about how and why you got involved in coaching and some of the people who were influential in getting you there?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, two of them are right back there in Pittsburg, Bill Sacco my high school coach who will be at the game with his wife. And my college coach, Joe DeGregorio (Clarion), who will also be here with his wife, sitting behinBBybb. They're people that are special to me, that are great friends of mine and have had a lot to do with the opportunities I have. And I always say, you know, I'm just an ordinary guy, nothing special, trying to do special things. And those kind of people there have given me the opportunity to be here and be in front of you today.
Q. Could you talk about Bright and Dingle a little bit. Marcus has been getting publicity a lot and the guards are starting to get that, too, but these two guys seem to quietly do a great job.
COACH CALIPARI: One thing I've been telling my team all year, when the tide rises all the boats rise. Right now I'm seeing stories written about Tyrone Weeks, Charlton Clarke, Inus Norville. Donta Bright is as good a finisher as there is in the country. In my opinion he's the best finisher in the country. Dana Dingle is a warrior; a great rebounder, especially in traffic. A great defender, and he's really, really improved his offense. I think both of those two will have opportunities to play basketball when their careers are over at the University of Massachusetts.
Q. John, a lot of people talk about the minutes that your back court starters play, but they've seemed to hold up well. Was that a concern of yours, coming into the season and playing them so much?
COACH CALIPARI: If you asked college players, would you rather play 36 minutes a game or 24 minutes a game, there's not one that would tell you 24, not one. Unless he can't play, then he may be telling you, yeah, just give me a few minutes. If they can play they want to play every minute they can be on the floor. We play a style of basketball where we run every opportunity we can. We press probably 20 to 30 percent of the game, no more than that. And you can sustain it if you take care of your body, if you're in good physical condition. And you understand that you have to eat right and do things to keep your body ready for the challenge. And those two guys are the best I've seen.
Q. John, Kentucky obviously is under a lot of pressure to win a championship this year. Do you feel under any pressure to win one? What pressure do you feel like you're under at this point in time?
COACH CALIPARI: None of you guys picked us to win (laughter). We're big time underdogs, we know that. And the good news for us, I've got a group of kids that met every challenge. We're going into the game as loose as we can be, but I'll tell you what, I really think Kentucky will be the same way. It's going to be a great, great college basketball game.
Q. I wondered your opinion of playing the Final Four, the mecca of basketball. And why did you decide to bring your team Tuesday and has it been difficult?
COACH CALIPARI: I didn't hear you. You're going to have to start again.
Q. Three part question. How do you feel about playing the Final Four in the New York area, the mecca of basketball?
COACH CALIPARI: Very excited.
Q. Why did you decide to bring your team here on Tuesday, and has it been difficult to keep them away from distractions?
COACH CALIPARI: We're in a hotel where there are no distractions. If they want to leave they may walk about four hours. We're in a hotel where there's no place for them to go. We were going to leave Wednesday morning and we decided to leave Tuesday night so that we could come down and see St. Joe's play in the NIT semifinal and support them. We thought about leaving after classes on Wednesday or Wednesday night or Thursday morning but for us the best thing was to leave, leave the distractions of the media and the families and the friends behind. We're going to graduate four of our five seniors on time. We have no academic problem, so it wasn't an academic issue. It was about getting away, getting down here and getting ready to get started, and getting away from the distractions. But they've been going out to malls. They went to a movie last night. I like my team to be together. And I'll be honest with you, I enjoy being around them. And they enjoy being around each other.
Q. John, psychologically Kentucky might have an advantage since you beat them earlier. But does the fact that you guys have been listed as that much of an underdog, does that cancel out the psychological advantage they might have?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know. You have the revenge factor. I just know that we're going to have to do certain things. It doesn't matter what's printed. It doesn't matter what the line is, all that stuff does not matter when that ball is thrown up. If we don't do the things we need to do we're going to get buried.
Q. Does your relationship with Rick make this feel a little -- you saying you're loose and the team is loose, does that help you approach the game?
COACH CALIPARI: I would rather not play Rick Pitino unless it was the very last game for both of us. The reason is I owe him a lot. I'm very grateful for the opportunity he's given me and my family. You don't want to play great friends unless it's the last game for both teams. We have to do this, so we're going to play. Between now and game time before it ends, he's the other coach. When the game ends I'll hug him, win or lose, and tell him how much I appreciate what he's done for me and my family. But until then we're both going after the jugular.
Q. John, when you look at the team that beat Kentucky in that first game and look at the one that just beat Georgetown again here, what strikes you as the biggest difference between -- because it's the same guys, what's the biggest difference when you look at the two tapes?
COACH CALIPARI: We are better defined. Our team has evolved over the year. And we're a better defined team right now. We have a better idea what we have to do to win. We have a better idea what our roles are. And right now I would say before this game our team is in as good a frame of mind as individuals and as a team as I've seen. It doesn't mean much, but --
Q. Coach, in the Final Four there's always players who just take that spotlight, this could be an opportunity for Marcus. Is this the type of setting he thrives in and would want to do that?
COACH CALIPARI: He's played his best games in our biggest games. But I don't want to put pressure on him. And what I've said to him, as long as you defend and rebound and block shots we'll be okay. If you score we'll be in pretty good shape. But don't worry about that. We'll still be okay if you just rebound, defend and block shots. Those are all effort things. You don't want to put pressure on any one player on our team. Our program is based on balance. We don't live by the star system. And that means on the basketball court everybody has opportunities to score. And off the court if someone screws up they pay the price, whether they're our best player or our worst player. And then we move on after that happens. I think our team knows that, sure, Marcus is going to play a part in this, but so is Edgar, so it Carmelo and Tyrone Weeks and Inus Norville, and they're all going to play a part in this.
Q. What's your take on most people viewing your game as the "championship game before the championship"?
COACH CALIPARI: I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about preparing my team for the game. Hopefully after, worrying about the next game.
Q. Coach, you hear the phrase "UMass basketball" from your kids, "If we play UMass basketball", what is your definition of UMass basketball?
COACH CALIPARI: Playing with passion and emotion, being a warrior, making the extra pass, attacking the glass with reckless abandon and playing to win, having a refuse to lose attitude.
Q. You've spoken a number of times late this season about realizing at some point that your players wanted to succeed as much or more than you. What observations led you to that conclusion and in general how rare is that in this business?
COACH CALIPARI: Very rare. This is a unique team. And I'm not saying that that will lead to a victory on Saturday. But this is a unique team. In all my years of coaching and playing you've always had two or three guys on every team that didn't want it that badly. And either they didn't want it for themselves or they didn't want it for their team that badly. So they broke the team down a little bit. This team, to a man, wants it as bad for themselves as we want it for them. And it's fun coaching. That means I don't have to check curfew, because they know how important it is to get rest. I don't have to see if people are going to be where they're supposed to be, because they know how important it is. We've had, in a year now, I don't know how many practices we've had, Malcolm, imagine we've had about four bad practices. That is incredible. Somebody came over to one of our practices, said where would you rate that? I said eight. We haven't had many bad practices, because they want it bad, for themselves and their team. It makes my job easy. It makes me look like I'm doing a fabulous job. The reality is I'm just kind of pushing them in the right direction and they're doing it all.
Q. John, describe your team as big time underdogs. There are a couple of other underdogs here, too. Can you discuss the notion the tournament maybe should be re-seeded after the regional rounds?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me throw you this. People say we shouldn't be playing in the first game with Kentucky. How would you re-seed? The seed coming into the tournament? Right now Mississippi State is playing as well as anybody. How would you say they would be seeded, third? They're playing better than us and may be better than Kentucky, and just beat Kentucky. So maybe they should be seeded first. Who would judge it? Who would do it? People are mad where they're seeded going in. I think it would open up another can of worms. I think the tournament the way it's run, the success of this tournament is unparalleled. I don't think you mess with it. I think you leave it alone, and we play Kentucky. I said this, I thought Georgetown was one of the best four teams in the country, we had to play them in a regional final, one of us was not coming here. Unfortunately, that's where the chips fall. That may happen one year, where we're one of the best, and we play the regional finals and get beat. You have to take the good with the bad.
| Game recap as narrated by CBS Sports' Jim Nantz.|
(7 min 23 sec long, 3.1meg WAV file)
ony Delk scored 20 points to lead Kentucky to an 81-74 victory over Massachusetts in an N-C-A-A Final Four game featuring top seeds at East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Kentucky (33-2) avenged a regular season loss to Massachusetts and advanced to the N-C-A-A championship game for the first time since 1978. The Wilcats are 5-2 in N-C-A-A title games, and defeated Duke, 94-88, in the 1978 championship game. U-C-L-A has won 11 national championships, and Kentucky and Indiana are tied with five each.
Kentucky will play Syracuse in the N-C-A-A Final Monday night at New Jersey. Syracuse beat Mississippi State, 77-69, in the first semifinal game.
Marcus Camby led Massachusetts (35-2) with 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. The six blocked shots tied a Final Four single-game record.
"We used our quickness to double down on Camby and I thought we did a pretty good job on him, but he's a great player you're not going to shut him down," said Kentucky forward Antoine Walker, who had 14 points. "The important thing is that we shut down everybody else."
"They played a good, aggressive defense," said Camby. "They played great today. I probably should have been a little more aggressive when the double team came."
Kentucky succeeded in stifling Massachusetts' starting backcourt of Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. The UMass guards combined for 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field.
Delk scored 12 of his points in the first half when Kentucky built a 36-28 lead. The Wildcats then scored the first seven points of the second half to increase their lead to 43-28.
Massachusetts responded with a 13-4 run to pull within 47-41. Camby had a dunk and converted a three-point play in the run. But Kentucky reeled off seven straight points on a three-pointer by Delk and dunks by Walter McCarty and Walker.
A pair of three-pointers by Travieso, who took only seven shots, pulled Massachusetts within 56-49 with 9:20 left. A three-pointer by freshman Ron Mercer increased Kentucky's lead to 59-49.
But Massachusetts went on an 11-4 run to pull within 63-60. A basket and a tip-in by Donta Bright, who finished with 15 points, capped the run with 4:56 remaining.
Kentucky answered with an 8-1 spurt to increase its lead to 71-61. Jeff Sheppard scored on a dunk and added a free throw in the spurt. Sheppard played eight minutes in the second half for Delk, who was bothered by leg cramps.
"I started catching leg cramps in the second half, but Shep (Sheppard) gave us a big lift," said Delk. "Hey, that's our team. We have guys off our bench who give us a lift at any time."
"Tony (Delk) cramping up hurt us a little bit," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. "We knew we were going to have to win it with halfcourt offense and halfcourt defense down the stretch."
Massachusetts again fought back with a 9-2 run. Camby converted a jumper and a pair of free throws and Padilla hit a three-point jumper to pull Massachusetts within 73-70 with 62 seconds left.
But Mark Pope hit a pair of free throws, Walker scored on a dunk and Delk converted a layup in the final minute to seal the win.
"When we had a 10-point lead, we usually put the knockout punch, but they kept fighting back," said Pitino. "When they made their run, the thing I feel best about is that there was no panic in our players."
Massachusetts, which beat Kentucky, 92-82, in the Great Eight back in November, was making its first-ever Final Four appearance.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end and that's all I could ask," said Massachusetts coach John Calipari. "We played to win right down to the end and played hard right down to the end. I'm proud of them."
Pitino is making his first trip to the national championship game. He advanced to the Final Four in 1987 with Providence and in 1993 with Kentucky. The Wildcats won their last national championship in 1978 under coach Joe B. Hall.
Delk scored five points to highlight an 11-2 run which opened a 28-20 lead for Kentucky.
After Bright converted one-of-two free throws to give Massachusetts an 18-17 advantage, McCarty scored on a dunk and Walker hit a jumper to ignite the run.
Bright scored another basket for Massachusetts, but Delk hit a jumper, Pope scored on a dunk and Delk completed a three-point play to give Kentucky a 28-20 lead.
Massachusetts pulled within 32-28, but Kentucky closed the half with jumpers by Walker and Delk.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was billed as the "true national championship game," and it played out just like that.
Two heavyweights going toe-to-toe. No. 1 Massachusetts versus No. 2 Kentucky.
Kentucky won on points, 81-74, avenging a regular season loss to UMass and advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1978. The Wildcats will play surprising Syracuse, which handled Mississippi State 77-69, in the Monday night's final.
After winning its four NCAA Tournament games by an average of 28 points, even gaudier than the 23-point margin over the season, the Wildcats finally were tested as the Minutemen (35-2) closed a 15-point second-half deficit to 73-70 with one minute to play.
Mark Pope made two free throws with 52 seconds left to make the lead five and Antoine Walker's dunk 14 seconds later after a missed 3-pointer by Edgar Padilla had the Wildcats on their way to a chance at their sixth national championship, second only to UCLA's 11.
They reached their first title game in 18 years by answering those who wondered how they'd fare in a tight matchup.
"The question was legitimate," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. "How do you know if you didn't have a lot of close ones? I always felt we'd play very well in a close game because we're a good free throw shooting team and a good passing team but I couldn't give you the answer because we didn't do it."
All-America center Marcus Camby led UMass with 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots in perhaps his final college game.
"We used our quickness to double down on Camby and I thought we did a pretty good job on him, but he's a great player you're not going to shut him down," said Walker, who had 14 points. "The important thing is that we shut down everybody else."
The rest of the Minutemen starting lineup had just 39 points, and the backcourt duo of Padilla and Carmelo Travieso combined to hit five of 17 shots for 16 points.
"They played a good, aggressive defense," said Camby, a junior. "They played great today. I probably should have been a little more aggressive when the double team came."
The teams had met in November, and UMass came away with a 92-82 victory. The Wildcats won their next 27 games until losing to Mississippi State in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
In that game, UMass opened the second half with an 11-1 run to take a 10-point lead and then held off two Kentucky runs. This time it was Kentucky that had to hold off the Minutemen.
Delk scored 12 of his 20 points points in the first half when Kentucky built a 36-28 lead. The Wildcats then scored the first seven points of the second half to increase their lead to 43-28.
It was beginning to look like a Wildcat cakewalk. But UMass responded with a 13-4 run to pull within 47-41. Camby had a dunk and converted a three-point play in the run.
But Kentucky reeled off seven consecutive points on a Delk 3-pointer and dunks by Walter McCarty and Walker.
A pair of 3-pointers by Carmelo Travieso, who scored only two points in the first half because of foul trouble, pulled UMass within 56-49 with 9:20 left. A 3-pointer by freshman Ron Mercer increased Kentucky's lead to 59-49.
"We gave ourselved a chance to win at the end and that's all I could ask," UMass coach John Calipari said. "We played to win right down to the end and played hard right down to the end. I'm proud of them."
But UMass went on an 11-4 run to pull within 63-60. A basket and a tip-in by Donta Bright capped the run with 4:56
remaining. "They're a better team. They're more defined," UMass coach John Calipari said. "I thought when we got close they would panic but they didn't. They did a little bit at the end, but they made all the plays."
Kentucky answered with an 8-1 spurt to increase its lead to 71-61. Jeff Sheppard scored on a dunk and added a free throw in the spurt. Sheppard played eight minutes in the second half for Delk, who was bothered by leg cramps.
"I started catching leg cramps in the second half, but Shep gave us a big lift," Delk said. "Hey, that's our team. We have guys off our bench who give us a lift at any time."
Said Pitino: "Tony cramping up hurt us a little bit. We knew we were going to have to win it with halfcourt offense and half-court defense down the stretch."
UMass again fought back with a 9-2 run. Camby converted a jumper and a pair of free throws and Edgar Padilla hit a 3-pointer to pull UMass within 73-70 with 62 seconds left.
But Pope hit a pair of free throws, Walker scored on a dunk and Delk converted a layup in the final minute to seal the win.
"When we had a 10-point lead, we usually put the knockout punch, but they kept fighting back," Pitino said. "When they made their run, the thing I feel best about is that there was no panic in our players."
UMass was making its first-ever Final Four appearance. Kentucky is in the Final Four for the second time in four years under coach Rick Pitino. The Wildcats won the national championship in 1978 under coach Joe B. Hall.
Delk scored five points to highlight an 11-2 run which opened a 28-20 lead for Kentucky.
After Bright converted one of two free throws to give Massachusetts an 18-17 advantage, McCarty scored on a dunk and Walker hit a jumper to ignite the run.
Bright scored another basket for UMass, but Delk hit a jumper, Pope scored on a dunk and Delk completed a three-point play to give Kentucky a 28-20 lead.
UMass pulled within 32-28, but Kentucky closed the half with jumpers by Walker and Delk.
Kentucky held UMass' starting backcourt of Padilla and Travieso to a total of five points in the first half.
"I guess we handled it well," Walker said of the Wildcats' first close game. "We weren't worried about the game. It was tight, but we handled it well. It was very difficult for us, but we handled it well and we're happy."
Delk led Kentucky with 20 points, and Walker added 14. Six other Wildcats had between nine and six points as they again flaunted their depth.
Massachusetts basically uses seven players.
"We were going to suffocate them at every level," Pitino said. "We knew though we were going to have to win it with our halfcourt offense and halfcourt defense."
Bright added 15 points for the Minutemen and Travieso had 10 points, but was plagued most of the game by foul trouble. Padilla, his partner in what many considered one of college basketball's best backcourts, finished with six points and 12 assists.
"We've had a great season and this was one of the goals we set, and we have one more Monday night," Walker said before addressing what seems to be the demand of winning it all from their fans. "It's a good kind of pressure. It makes us play that much harder. That's what makes us go every day."
Now Kentucky gets a chance at Syracuse.
"They're a heck of a ballclub that everybody is underrating," Pitino said.
OACH CALIPARI: I was proud of our guys. We played hard. It's just that they played with a little more emotion than we played. If you were wondering why I was jumping, I was trying to get them to go or reach down. But I thought the game was played and unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball club. We refused to lose. We never stopped playing. We played right down to the end. And I'm proud of them. (click for audio clip 64k WAV) I told the team after this game in the locker room that I learned more about myself as a coach and a person this year than I have in all my other years of coaching and I thanked them, because you're talking about unbelievable human beings that I coached this year. And it may never happen for me to coach a group. It's about the kind of people and character they had. You don't come back. You don't win close games like we do without kids with strong character and smart kids like we have.
Q. For Edgar Padilla. Could you talk about how hard it was to play against the press. You played so much of the game, particularly while Carmelo was out with personal fouls?
EDGAR PADILLA: It was kind of hard, because we had a lot of guys standing instead of moving and coming to the middle. And sometimes I didn't cut to the middle, either, and that made it a little harder. But they just played hard on us, and that's why we lost.
Q. This is for Marcus and Donta. You guys both had good success inside scoring and rebounding against Kentucky, but I was wondering if you could make comments on their front court defense?
DONTA BRIGHT: They came out and we didn't attack them the way we should have. And they just made us make tough shots. Every time we shot the ball, there was a hand in our face. They played pretty good defense.
MARCUS CAMBY: They played good, aggressive defense. In the beginning, they forced me to take some bad shots, which I did. They played great today.
Q. For Marcus Camby. Have you thought at all about what your future is? Will you come back to UMass?
MARCUS CAMBY: I haven't thought about it. I'm just down right now.
Q. This is for Coach Calipari --
ALFRED WHITE: We're going to take the players' questions before we get to Coach Calipari.
Q. For Marcus. Can you talk about their attack ability offensively, the way they can score so quickly?
MARCUS CAMBY: They came down and made some big plays. We were scrambling and a couple of guys drove deep and got baskets. They're a great ball club and they proved that tonight.
Q. Carmelo, there's a lot of talk about how Kentucky had not played a lot of close games, and no one was sure how they'd react. When you got it close, did you see any panic or how did they react at the end when you guys got close?
CARMELO TRAVIESO: I don't think they panicked. They made the plays they had to make. They passed the ball real well and they executed when they had to and made plays.
Q. Marcus, looking back on the game now, what would you have done differently in the game now that you've had a chance to go through it? Was there anything you'd be doing or changing in your game?
MARCUS CAMBY: I probably needed to be a little more aggressive when the double team came. They were knocking balls out of my hand and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable taking. So I probably should have played a little bit more aggressively. (click for audio clip 30k WAV)
Q. This is for Edgar or Marcus. Since you played the most minutes for UMass, could you talk about their depth and how much that wore you guys down because they didn't have a single player that played over 33 minutes?
MARCUS CAMBY: I didn't think it wore us down. This was our last game of the season and it was do or die. We would rather be playing than sitting on the bench. I wouldn't say their depth had that much of a factor because we like to play.
Q. John, down the stretch, there were several places where it seemed like they had thrown enough punches to finish you, and there was always a chance to cut it to two. It seemed like they could have finished you up four different times down the stretch. And even with Padilla's shot nearly went down in the last minute, you're still there. I don't know if you had to ever come back that many times during the season, certainly not against a ball club of this caliber. But it was something to see.
COACH CALIPARI: We've done that, though. And I just think that this basketball team plays to win. They're not playing not to lose. They're not worrying about the time. They play to win. That's how we try to work it. I keep telling them play to win. We got to three with four minutes to go and had two possessions and got away from how we played. Took a bad fader and took a three, and barely caught it and threw it at the rim and got an air ball. We had our chances. And that's all -- in this kind of game, when you're playing an opponent like that, that's what you're trying to do. That game unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We just didn't make plays down the stretch and they did. Marcus needed to make more plays in the first half. The second half he was fine. They're a great basketball club. You watched the game. I would say people enjoyed that basketball game.
Q. John, you said in your opening -- you told the players you'd learned more about yourself this season than any other. What did you learn?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I honestly learned that it isn't life or death, winning basketball games. And I learned that when you're coaching, you understand that when you have good people, it's very fun to coach. And when you have guys that you're struggling with, it's not very fun to coach. And the record of your team doesn't matter as much as that. And I think I also learned when there's some adversity thrown at me how I'll respond. And when it's thrown right quickly in your face. Until that stuff is done, you don't know how you're going to react. And I learned a lot about myself. I made moves this year, spontaneous moves that happened. And I'm not just talking Marcus's situation, other things that happened throughout the year. But I'm just -- I learned a lot about myself as a coach, too, because of these guys.
Q. Coach, can you talk about is it like playing two teams when you're playing Kentucky, with the ten guys, and Syracuse, like you, doesn't play a lot of people. How hard does that get as the game goes on?
COACH CALIPARI: Doesn't bother us. We've played teams that play a lot of people. I think what happens is at times for us, we want a team to sub a lot because we think they get out of rhythm. Because in a full court game, up and down the court, you can sub liberally because you're trying to do it on athleticism, speed and quickness. In a half court game, it's about chemistry, and the more you sub, the less chemistry you have. We have a chance,, don't worry about them subbing. That's not going to wear us down. That didn't play a factor in the game. We didn't make plays down the stretch. We didn't get to about four or five loose balls or rebounds that if we get, we're right there in a buzzer kind of game. We never got those balls. A couple of breaks, that could have gone one way or another, seemed to go another. That happens in a basketball game of this magnitude at times.
Q. John, can you comment briefly on Edgar's game tonight, 39 minutes, 12 assists and only four turnovers?
COACH CALIPARI: He was terrific. They banged him and it was physical. He got knocked around. It's not just his legs. It's like playing a little like football out there when they're hand checking and pushing. He did a pretty good job defending, too. Edgar Padilla has done it all year. Edgar, our starting five, and Tyrone. I'll tell you, I was most proud of Giddel Padilla. You're talking about a guy I haven't played that much. I looked down the bench and said, "Giddel, get in there," and you know what, he played to win. He played to show people he's good enough and he went out there and the lead went from 13 to 6 or 7 when I took him out. And I put Carmelo in and it stretched up and so I put him back in. And as a coach, that's what you're hoping, that guys wait for an opportunity and then they take advantage, instead of being mad and crying. When I get an opportunity, even if it's the last game of the season, I can show that I can play. And I think he learned a lot from this season and I'm happy for him.
Q. Coach, how far has Kentucky come and how have they changed since the first time you played them? And having played both teams in the National Championship, what kind of game do you expect?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know what to expect and I haven't thought much about it, but I think Kentucky is a better basketball team. They're more defined. As that game got close, I thought they might panic. They did at times, but not enough to sway the game. There was a couple of plays they didn't make. But in the end, they did everything, including making free throws and play our press and do some good things. The last time we were up 4 to 6. We were up. And we made the plays. This time they were up and they made the plays. But they're a better team, they're more well defined. They've accepted roles and they're going to be tough to beat. But I'm so happy for Jim Boeheim, because you're talking about a guy I believe can coach basketball, who has been maligned as a guy that can't, but he can. I'm happy he's here and in that final game. And obviously Rick and I are close, so it will be a good game and I wish them both well.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They never got a chance to cut the nets down. They passed on the opportunities at the conference championship and NCAA East Regional title game, taking a risk they'd be there for the final game of the college basketball season. And why not? Throughout the year, they had smashed through every barrier they had encountered.
But yesterday, the No. 1-ranked University of Massachusetts ran into shatterproof glass. Again and again they tried to break free. Again and again they were turned away. When the final buzzer sounded, it was the Minutemen's hearts that were broken; tomorrow night, someone else will be cutting those nets.
The greatest season in UMass basketball history came to a dramatic end in last night's tournament semifinal. No. 2-ranked Kentucky, which lost to UMass in the Minutemen's season opener, returned the favor -- jumping out to a 15-point second-half lead then withstanding several UMass rallies for an 81-74 victory.
Paced by leading scorer Tony Delk (20 points) the Wildcats frustrated UMass with their backcourt pressure and half-court motion offense to earn their first trip to the national title game since 1978. Kentucky will meet Syracuse, a 77-69 winner over Mississippi State in the first semifinal, tomorrow night. ``I'm an alumnus of the University of Massachusetts and I can't say enough about that team,'' said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino.
``Ninety-nine percent of the teams in the country would have gone under with the pressure we applied. They're just a remarkable group.''
National Player of the Year Marcus Camby scored a game-high 25 points for the Minutemen (35-2), who were hoping to become the first men's Division 1 team in New England to win a national championship since Holy Cross in 1947.
``I'm proud of our guys,'' said UMass coach John Calipari. ``We played hard, it's just that they played with a little more emotion than us. I thought the game unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold. We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great ballclub.
``We refused to lose. We never stopped playing. We played right down to the end. And I'm proud of them.''
Calipari's team, which beat the Wildcats, 92-82, in the Great Eight Invitational, found the Wildcats' pressure more difficult this time for 40 minutes -- unlike the first game, where it was most effective over the last 10 minutes of the first half. The Wildcats beat the Minutemen on backdoor plays -- aided most by quick whip passes from the perimeter -- and helped themselves to a 36-28 halftime lead.
``It was kind of hard playing against their press because we had a lot of guys standing instead of moving and coming to the middle,'' said UMass guard Edgar Padilla. ``Sometimes, I didn't cut to the middle, either. That made it a little harder.''
The Minutemen, who have outplayed many teams over the first 10 minutes of the second half (including Kentucky in the Minutemen's season opener), clearly were outplayed in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Wildcats outscored UMass, 7-0, over the first two minutes of the second half, converting several steals and offensive rebounds for 000027.
UMass didn't get on the board until the 17:35 mark of the second half, when forward Dana Dingle -- who left the game in the first half after suffering a cut lip -- scored on a bank shot to cut the lead to 43-30. UMass cut the lead to 43-32 on an inbounds bucket by forward Donta Bright. Kentucky kept the Minutemen at bay, however; center Walter McCarty scored on a pump shot over Camby to put the Wildcats up, 47-34.
``They came down and made some big plays,'' said Camby. ``We were scrambling and a couple of their guys drove deep and got baskets. They're a great ball club and they proved that [last night].''
UMass cut the lead to 47-36 as Camby scored on a put-back dunk of a Charlton Clarke miss and UMass got the ball back on the alternating possession rule. Dingle scored to pull the Minutemen to 47-38 with 15:04 left, and Kentucky turned the ball over again. With UMass guard Giddel Padilla in the lineup, the Minutemen continued to climb back in it.
Camby scored on a 3-point play (assist Giddel Padilla) to cut the lead to 47-41 with 14:31 left. Then Kentucky surged; Delk hit a pull-up 3-point basket to put the Wildcats up, 50-41. After several UMass misses -- including a 3-point attempt by Camby -- Kentucky scored on a dunk by McCarty to go up, 52-41, with 11:33 left.
Then UMass guard Carmelo Travieso -- who scored just 2 points in the first half and had his only 3-point attempt blocked -- finally got into the game scoring-wise. He hit consecutive 3-point baskets to pull UMass to 56-49 with 8:27 left. But Kentucky forward Ron Mercer sank a 3-point basket with 7:45 left to give the Wildcats a 59-49 lead.
But the Minutemen clawed back. A 3-point play by Camby with 6:18 left pulled the Minutemen to 59-54 with 6:18 to go. With 4:57 left, Bright tipped in a miss by Dingle to pull the Minutemen to 63-60.
With 4:04 left, Kentucky center Mark Pope sank two free throws to put the Wildcats up, 65-60. Antoine Walker sank a free throw with 3:23 left to put Kentucky up by 6. Then at the other end, Camby was triple-teamed, Walker batted the ball away, and Kentucky converted on a dunk by guard Jeff Sheppard -- 68-60, Kentucky.
``Late in the game, I started going away from my man and helping out on the double-team,'' said Walker. ``When we triple-teamed him, I got a hand on the ball and took it away from him. Then I looked up the floor and hit Jeff for the dunk.''
``I probably needed to be more aggressive when the double- team came,'' said Camby. ``They were knocking balls out of my hand and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable in taking.''
But again UMass rallied. Consecutive buckets by Camby and Giddel Padilla pulled UMass to 71-67 with 1:42 left. After a Kentucky turnover, Camby misfired and Giddel Padilla had his shot blocked. But after two free throws by guard Derek Anderson, Edgar Padilla drained a trey to pull the Minutemen to 73-70. But Kentucky scored 6 straight points, the latter on a lay-in by Delk with 21.6 seconds left to put the Wildcats up, 79-70. And the Wildcats fans began to celebrate.
``In the locker room, I told them that I learned more about myself as a coach and person this year than I have in all my years of coaching and I thanked them,'' said Calipari. ``It may never happen for me to coach a group like this. It's the kind of people and the character we had.''
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- OK, OK, it's all true. Rick Pitino's cast of thousands was good enough to beat John Calipari's Six Good Men, only last night there was an extra Padilla to consider, so make it Seven.
Kentucky moves on to the national title game against Syracuse tomorrow night. UMass goes back to Amherst, but the Minutemen go back the way Coach Cal has always hoped they would -- with their dignity intact, their reputations enhanced.
How many times has he said it along this long, long season? A rough paraphrase would be as follows: ``As long as we play UMass basketball, as long as we play with passion and emotion, if the other team turns out to be better, we'll just congratulate them and go home.''
Well, guess what? UMass lost the game, but UMass also won the praise and admiration of the basketball community. There is only one team in America that could have spotted the Deepest Team In History a 15-point lead and come back to make it a game. UMass went down so hard they might have to bring in workmen today to reinforce the Meadowlands Arena floor.
``I'm proud of my ballclub,'' said Pitino, ``but as an alumnus of Massachusetts [Class of '74], I am also proud of them. Ninety-nine percent of the teams in the country would have gone under with the pressure we applied. They're just a remarkable group.''
UMass let the game get away from them (or Kentucky took it away from them, depending on one's point of view) in two bursts, one in the first half and one at the start of the second. It might not have been a coincidence that UMass had problems at the end of the half when senior leader Dana Dingle retired to the locker room in order to have his lower lip stitched up. But that was always supposed to be the difference between these clubs, wasn't it? UMass was the solid core unit of six, maybe seven. Kentucky was the team with the seemingly endless supply of talented and well-coached athletes, sort of a Noah's Ark of basketball. UMass only comes one to a species.
There was more trouble at the outset of the second half, when Kentucky scored the first 7 points, expanding its 36-28 halftime lead to a menacing 15 at 43-28. In the normal Kentucky game, that 15-point spread, at that juncture, means that from there on out the over/under escalates to 30. That's precisely what happened to a good Utah team, a 101-70 tournament victim.
``We weren't 30 points better than Utah,'' said Pitino at the time. ``What happened was that they had to play our game, and they couldn't do that.''
But UMass would not allow Kentucky to play its game. The book says that Kentucky gets a lead and then annihilates people with its depth. Against UMass, the book did not factor into the equation. Against UMass, that 15-point lead was the slap in the face that initiates the duel at 20 paces.
A word about the 81-74 victors: their official nickname is the Wildcats, but this group, at least, should be sub-nicknamed the Piranhas. They swarm, they attack and they feast, and they do it with superb, and superbly conditioned, athletes, the kind that only a few elevated and committed ``programs'' (as opposed to ``teams'') can gather under one roof. It is very much a mutually beneficial relationship. Pitino is fortunate to have these players, and they are equally fortunate to have him as their coach, because if they pay attention to what he says they will come away much better players than they were upon enrolling at the institution.
The same can be said for the UMass players. They came into the school at a certain juvenile level, and now they are seasoned young men. If they weren't, this game could oh-so-easily have turned into one of those 115-77 fiascos, because Kentucky has such astonishing depth.
Check this out: With 3:32 remaining, and Kentucky leading by a shaky 6 (66-60), Pitino had a five-man unit on the floor that had the following point totals at the time: 2-4-9-7-6. Here was Pitino in Certified Crunch Time with a unit on the floor that had compiled a scant 28 points, and yet he was totally comfortable with them. Sitting on the bench for quite some time while this was going on was guard Tony Delk, who most people believe is the best player on his team. Only Rick Pitino would even think of doing either of those things at that time, because only Rick Pitino has the Kentucky roster to play with.
But Kentucky could not KO this resilient UMass team. The 15-point lead early in the second half didn't matter. A 10-point lead at 71-61 (2:35 remaining) didn't matter. UMass hung in and hung in, and well -- what other way is there to put it? -- Refused To Lose.
``We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball club,'' said Calipari. ``We refused to lose. You can't come back as many times as we did this season, or win as many close games as we did, without strong character.''
The UMass comeback was led by the Usual Suspects, the Cambys, the Traviesos, the Brights, the Dingles, and the Padillas. The kicker this time was that the list of Padillas was expanded to a pair. For throwing his heart out there on the floor was little-used senior Giddel Padilla, the older brother of Edgar, the gritty starting point guard. Giddel Padilla got out there in his big moment and made plays that got his team back into the game. He spun into the lane for a dish-off to Camby that resulted in a 3-point play. He grabbed a big offensive rebound. He made a steal. As much as anyone else, he exemplified the spirit of this magnificent ballclub, perhaps the best New England has ever seen.
Perhaps there really is no story here. Perhaps this whole salute falls under the heading of a redundancy. The Kentucky players, we learn, expected nothing less.
``I don't think you expect to blow out a team as good as UMass is,'' shrugged Kentucky's Mark Pope. ``They're too strong and too tough. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.''
There's a kid with insight.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The University of Massachusetts basketball team, ranked No. 1 in the nation and first in the hearts of New England sports fans, finally went down last night. In a semifinal game of the NCAA's illustrious Final Four, UMass was beaten, 81-74, by a team of thoroughbreds from Kentucky. The Wildcats will play Syracuse tomorrow night for the championship.
The 1995-96 Minutemen were a team of no retreat, no surrender and no regret. In a winter of record snowfall, the Sons of John Calipari gave us a season of utter content. While we were battered by a succession of storms -- and bored by mediocre Bruins and bad Celtics -- the Minutemen cruised through most of the winter as the nation's top-ranked team.
They pushed their cause to the ultimate event, the Final Four. And in their last moment of glory, they cut Kentucky's 15-point second-half lead to 3 in the final minute. But in the end, they could not overcome the blue-chip, blue-ribbon, blue-clad Wildcats. UMass finished its starry season with a lofty record of 35-2.
So now there will be no more storms and no more college basketball for the sports fans of our region. We have prolonged winter long enough and it's time for spring. The Red Sox open their season tomorrow in Texas.
``I was proud of our guys,'' Coach Calipari said after the defeat. ``We gave ourselves a chance to win against a great basketball team. We refused to lose and played hard at the end.''
UMass had high hopes entering last night's match.
The Minutemen defeated highly touted Kentucky by 10 in a November tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan. UMass had a chance to run the table in the regular season and compiled a 26-0 record before being upset at home by George Washington in February. It was a mere bump on the road to the Final Four.
The Minutemen cruised through the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney, earning their ticket to Jersey with an impressive 86-62 thumping of Georgetown in the East Regional Final at Atlanta. UMass became only the third New England school to participate in the Final Four, the first since Providence in 1987.
They arrived in Jersey as 9 1/2-point underdogs against star-studded Kentucky. They talked about not getting any respect, even though Calipari and center Marcus Camby were named coach and player of the year.
UMass alums were out in record numbers here in the swamps of Jersey. Celebrity grads like Bill Cosby and Julius Erving called for tickets and thousands of other UMass fans found their way to Exit 16W on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Harvard grad, made an appearance in the Minuteman locker room before the game and no doubt gave Calipari some tips on handling the Kentucky pressure. By halftime, Coach Cal probably was wondering if he could get Doctor J to suit up for the final 20 minutes.
Kentucky led by 8 at intermission and there wasn't much optimism in the UMass section of Continental Airlines Arena. The Minutemen simply appeared outmatched. Kentucky's defense wore down UMass. Carmelo Travieso took only two shots in the first half and one was blocked. Camby had two Wildcats in his face every time he caught a pass. Everybody knew it was going to be tough to stop the bleeding.
``Every time we shot the ball, there was a hand in our face,'' said forward Donta Bright.
It looked like a blowout early in the second half. Kentucky ran out to a 15-point lead (43-28) and there was no joy in Amherst. But the Minutemen would not die. Every time Kentucky pushed its lead back to 10, gutsy guard Edgar Padilla (12 assists in 39 minutes) would make something happen by stealing the ball or penetrating Kentucky's defense.
The 'Cats led, 71-61, with 2:36 left, but it still wasn't over. Camby scored from inside, Padilla stole the ball and fed Travieso for a score, and suddenly Kentucky was backpedaling from UMass' pressure. With just under a minute and a half to play, UMass trailed by only 4 and had the ball.
It didn't happen. The Minutemen missed two shots, then had to foul. A Padilla 3-pointer cut Kentucky's lead to 3 in the final minute, but the Wildcats did not buckle and advanced to the title game by making free throws and beating the UMass pressure.
``We just didn't make the plays and they did down the stretch,'' said Calipari.
Calipari's band of warriors was a team that awoke an alumni group that's been too sleepy for too long. UMass fans last night left the arena with their heads held high.
``We showed the country how we play basketball,'' said Calipari. ``When I think of what these young men have done for the Commonwealth, and what they've done for the state system . . . People now are proud to say that our state system is as good as anybody's.''
It took a team of players from Puerto Rico, Hartford, Baltimore and New York to bring out this kind of state pride. For the first time in memory, Massachusetts students and graduates are bragging about their university. They are true to their school. And their wonderful team was worthy to the finish.
t several points in the second half of last night's Kentucky-UMass telecast, viewers in neutral parts of the country could have switched channels. The Wildcats were quicker and appeared to be too far ahead.
But for Minutemen rooters watching on Channel 4 around here, and nervous hearts in Kentucky, it was a battle to watch to the finish.
You could almost hear CBS announcers Billy Packer and Jim Nantz cheering for the Minutemen whenever they narrowed the margin to single digits. ``Don't count them out yet,'' Packer warned for the umpteenth time after UMass scored two quick baskets to cut the deficit to 6 with two minutes left. A few seconds earlier, just about anyone who was not thinking about the point spread (7 1/2) had done so.
Packer, who implied during he week that he believed Kentucky was the best team in the country, at two junctures cited the Minutemen's ``miraculous comeback.'' It was an exaggeration both times, but so what?
``I really didn't think UMass could come back like that,'' Packer would add later on.
Said Nantz, ``They left a lot of heart out here.''
After all that praise while losing -- and before a huge national television audience -- last night's defeat may turn out to be a great recruiting victory for UMass coach John Calipari. CBS' camera work was first rate, including isolated shots of family members of the athletes and coaches that blessedly did not linger.
When Camby was announced as the top UMass player in the game, Quinn Buckner said it was the junior's last game for UMass. Not so fast, Quinn.
Those intending to watch Mississippi State-Syracuse as a way of passing the time until UMass-Kentucky had reason to pay attention.
The underdog Orangemen battled State evenly (36-36) through the first half and took command in the final 20 minutes to spring an upset.
With Syracuse effectively deploying a 2-3 zone, not common these days, Packer had plenty to talk about.
No one breaks down strategy better than Packer. His description of Mississippi State's problem with the Syracuse defense -- even while State was hitting 3-pointers early on -- proved true.
Packer did reach when he insisted Mississippi State's Dontae Jones' subpar play was telltale in his facial expressions. ``He isn't smiling,'' he said.
Nantz was restrained, getting out of the way of his talkative partner.
CBS' coaches roundtable, heard during the pregame, halftime of the first game and prior to UMass-Kentucky, avoided picking winners. That left them too often saying the obvious . . . CBS' 90-minute pregame show appeared to be about 45 minutes too long. When Pat O'Brien asked NCAA president Gene Corrigan what was his biggest problem, Corrigan responded good-naturedly, ``Sitting here talking to you.'' It was the only really funny line during the show. Corrigan offered an answer when asked how more tickets can be made available for public sale during the Final Four. ``Move the games to a larger building,'' Corrigan suggested . . . Among the many features were two on loyal families of John Wallace of Syracuse and UMass' Edgar and Giddel Padilla. Later, CBS aired a touching piece about Marcus Camby's support of a dying boy . . . Camby added the Chevrolet Player of the Year award that was presented on the pregame.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For nine weeks, they had a tight grip on the nation's No. 1 ranking. After they stumbled in an 86-76 home loss to Atlantic 10 rival George Washington Feb. 24, they regained their top billing, along with the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, just in time for the NCAA tournament.
In a season rife with trials and down-to-the-wire victories, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen faced one last water jump in this 64-team steeplechase when they convincingly defeated the second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas, 86-62, in the final of the East Regional last Saturday in Atlanta.
With that, UMass finally made the quantum leap to where no Minuteman had gone before -- the Final Four.
A year ago, UMass came to East Rutherford and stood on the doorstep of its first Final Four appearance but was left in the vestibule when Oklahoma State eliminated the Minutemen in the final of the East Regional.
Last week UMass kicked the door open to earn a Final Four matchup against Kentucky last night.
``I thought Georgetown was one of the best four teams in the country, and we had to play them in a regional final, so one of us was not coming here,'' Calipari said. ``Unfortunately that's how the chips fall. You have to take the good with the bad.''
Although UMass had the best overall record (31-1) in the 64-team field, Calipari seemed to wrestle with the perception that the Minutemen were vulnerable. At almost every stop on its Road to the Final Four, UMass had to prove the critics wrong -- that the Minutemen were strong enough indeed to make it out the rugged East bracket, one loaded with teams such as North Carolina, Penn State, Texas Tech, and, of course, the Beasts of the Big East, the Hoyas.
``It's just that every commentator, every writer, and everybody I've seen has picked us not to get out of the region,'' Calipari said. ``I think it's more of a reality than a perception.''
But Calipari explained why he thought the perception existed, which, quite possibly, also explained why the Minutemen entered last night's game as 8-point underdogs.
``I think part of it is because we're still UMass,'' he said. ``The respect level is not there and it's basically because we haven't won a national title.''
It might sound like another case of a coach tugging at his tie and pleading, ``No respect, no respect at all,'' but Calipari insists he has never played that game and never will.
``I don't do that, and I think it's wrong to teach that to players because that's not what this country was built on,'' he said. ``When these guys get away from me, it's not about `me against the world,' it's about, `how many people can I help who will eventually help me?'
``I just know that's the real world and what's going on right now,'' he added. ``We haven't been there and we haven't won a national title and until we do, people will say, `Ah, they can't do this,' and that's OK, it's not a problem. It's a great barrier for us to break.''
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- You can hear the tom-toms off in the distance. Seditionists among the college basketball community are spreading the message from village to village that just because No. 1 Massachusetts met No. 2 Kentucky in an NCAA semifinal game last night the tournament should be reseeded at the Final Four so no such thing ever happens again.
Great. How quintessentially modern American that is, in two ways. 1. Take a short-term problem born out of specific circumstance and magnify it with a needless longterm solution that demonstrates a complete desire for instant gratification and a complete noninterest in such things as tradition, luck and the human factor. 2. Micro-manage everything we touch into dust.
For those of you who aren't college basketballaholics, the issue is that the current system pairs semifinal opponents on a rotating three-year basis.
Everyone has always accepted this arrangement -- until this year. Whiners now say it's not ``fair'' for perceived superheavyweights UMass and Kentucky to be slugging it out in the semifinals while the supposedly less-deserving Mississippi State and Syracuse teams played for some kind of bogus free pass into the championship game.
Excuse me, but where have these people been while the NCAA tournament was making itself into one of the premier sporting events in America? Where were these by-the-book micro-managers when a lengthy list of sure-thing winners found themselves accepting runners-up trophies? Have these people got any soul whatsoever?
``The idea has very little merit,'' snorts Larry Donald, who, as editor and publisher of Basketball Times has his finger on the pulse of the sport as much as any man alive. ``If you're going to reseed, that presumes you're saying the committee's ability to seed in the first place is perfected. You're saying they have special insight, that they have some all-knowing, encompassing brilliance in the first place.''
``I am emphatically opposed,'' agrees Alex Wolff, a noted college basketball expert and author (``Raw Recruits,'' among others). ``It's ridiculous. As if the top powers need any more breaks.''
At present the only official seeding done is at the regional level. Since 1979, each region has been seeded 1 through 16. Pairings through the regional final are done on a numerical basis. But that's it. Whether it's four No. 1s in a Final Four (which has yet to happen, incidentally) or four 16s, or, like this year, two 1s (UMass and Kentucky) a 4 (Syracuse) and a 5 (Mississippi State), the pairings revert to the regional rotations, the way God and the tournament committee intended it.
The above opinions, while valued and prescient, don't matter, at least not compared with the ones offered by the people who put up the money. It is true that Billy Packer is a vocal exponent of reseeding. It's also true that the men he answers to are unalterably opposed to the idea.
``I don't like it at all,'' says Rick Gentile, lead producer of the CBS telecasts. ``It would take a lot of the fun out of it. As it is now, you slug your way through the brackets, and then whatever happens on Saturday, happens. The way it is now, something special can happen.''
``In the 15 years we have had this tournament,'' says CBS vice president (and former Boston College play-by-play announcer) Len DeLuca, ``this is the first time this idea has ever been seriously discussed. I disagree with people who say this is something which must happen.
``As it stands now,'' says DeLuca, ``we have a great, great Saturday night -- looking at it selfishly, of course -- and then we have the possibility of a David-vs.-Goliath game on Monday. The great lure of this tournament has always been the idea that something unpredictable could happen, and we need look no farther than 1983, when we all thought we were looking at the championship game in Houston and Louisville. The way it is now, we've kind of known what to look forward to since March 10. We've all known it could be UMass and Kentucky today. This way there is no jury-rigging. But what it comes down to is that if we had reseeding we never could have had North Carolina State over Houston.''
Let's go back to Mr. Donald's references to the sagacity of the committee, and let's introduce a Mr. John Calipari, a resident of Shutesbury, Mass., who had a very good seat for the UMass-Kentucky confrontation.
``If you're going to reseed,'' he asks, ``who's going to reseed, and, more importantly, on what basis? Who says it should be UMass-Kentucky, 1-2? Mississippi State is playing better than any of us right now. Who's going to tell them they should be a 3 seed here?''
And speaking of tournament committee wisdom, why was Mississippi State a 5 seed in its region to begin with?
``Because,'' explains an amused Donald, ``the SEC plays its championship game on a Sunday afternoon for television. Mississippi State went into the Kentucky game as a 5 seed in the eyes of the committee and even after beating Kentucky badly came out of that game a 5 seed because the Selection Show was going on the air at 6:30 and there wasn't enough time for them to change the seeding and alter their brackets.''
Brackets, ratings, seeds, who cares? The reason the tournament is so wonderful is that you've got to play the game on the floor, not in the committee room. I mean, geez, isn't it enough of a computer world already?
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The game was part of the history books now. It did not turn out the way Marcus Camby had hoped. Instead of playing one more game this season, in what thus far has been a spectacular and emotional college career, Camby was going home.
And so was UMass. Its epic matchup with Kentucky had turned into an 81-74 defeat in last night's Final Four semifinal game at the Meadowlands.
Camby, UMass' 6-foot-11-inch All-American center, college basketball's Player of the Year, had done what he could. He had scored a game-high 25 points. He had blocked six shots, tying a Final Four record. He had tried to carry a team that was struggling on his back.
But last night that was too much to ask. Walking off the court, almost an hour after the game, his warmup jersey draped over his head, Camby was a kid again.
A man in a wheelchair wearing a Syracuse sweatshirt stopped him. ``Do you mind if I take my picture with you, Marcus?'' he asked.
Camby sighed. ``Sure,'' he said with a smile. The picture taken, Camby walked off the court.
UMass fans and coach John Calipari probably wonder whether last night was Camby's last appearance on court wearing a UMass uniform.
The National Basketball Association will beckon again in a few months, enticing him with the prospect of financial security in exchange for his senior season.
Naturally someone asked about those plans. ``I haven't thought about that right now,'' said Camby.``I'm just down right now.''
Camby had problems with Kentucky, but then again everyone does, most recently Wake Forest All-American center Tim Duncan, who was befuddled and frustrated by the sagging and groping defenses used on him.
``I probably needed to be a little more aggressive when the double-team came,'' said Camby. ``They were knocking balls out of my hands and forcing me to take shots I didn't feel comfortable taking. So I probably should have played more aggressively.''
Camby had most of his problems in the first half, when the Wildcats sagged and trapped and double-teamed him, holding him to 8 points.
But then, just when it seemed like Kentucky would pull away with a 15-point lead two minutes into the second half, the Minutemen started their own charge. Suddenly Camby was all over the place, playing the way he had in the first meeting between the teams when Camby shredded the Wildcats for 32 points.
The Wildcats had no solutions. ``I asked you all for advice yesterday,'' joked Kentucky center Mark Pope. ``And you didn't have any. So who knows, he's the best player in America and he plays great every night. And he's a great player.''
Forward Antoine Walker, who handled some of the double-team duties on Camby, offered this evaluation. ``We did a good job on him early,'' he said. ``He's a great player. He's tough to stop. He's the guy that can handle the ball. So we knew he was going to get his points. Our job was to stop the other guys.''
The Wildcats did that, but Camby almost came back and got them anyway. He helped bring the ball up against Kentucky's pressure. He backed his way into the low post. He went outside and tried to hit from 3-point range.
On defense he roamed underneath and tried to will the balls out of the basket as Kentucky squeezed and squeezed some more, attempting to take the life out of the Minuteman comeback.
It wasn't enough. Camby felt he could have done more.
But it was all after the fact now. He had done what he could and it wasn't enough. A season that had had so many ups and downs had ended with one final dip.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Carmelo Travieso had yet to find his shooting range in the University of Massachusetts' season-opening game against Kentucky. The junior guard was just 2 of 9 from the floor in that game and hit just one 3-point basket. Aided by 5-of-6 shooting from the foul line, he scored 10 points.
Many expected different results yesterday, as Travieso had improved much since that game -- finding his shooting range midway through the season as UMass center Marcus Camby was out of the lineup. But yesterday, Travieso found his outing uncannily similar to the first time out: He was 3 of 7 from the floor, had just 2 treys and finished with 10 points.
``They denied me the ball and most of the time I found myself going away from the ball,'' said Travieso, who played much of the second half with four fouls. ``I didn't do a good job of moving around. In the second half, I got free a few times and I got a few open looks.''
That's when Travieso found his range, hitting consecutive treys to cut Kentucky's lead to 56-49 with 8:27 to go. But with his team trailing, 63-60, he threw up an airball from behind the arc and the Wildcats converted at the other end on two free throws by center Mark Pope. The UMass faithful were waiting to erupt when Travieso squared up for the trey. When he missed, there was collective despair.
``I figured someone had to step it up when I took that shot,'' he said. ``We were down by 3 at the time, and if I hit that, we tie the game. It could have changed the whole complexion of the game. It took a while for us to get going. We needed to make plays but we couldn't run our motion offense and get into a flow.''
Will he or won't he?
Camby said he hasn't considered whether he would forgo his final season for the NBA draft. ``I haven't thought about it. I'm just down right now,'' he said. Camby added he would not watch the final tomorrow night . . . UMass's Edgar Padilla had 12 assists against Kentucky, which matched the second-highest total in Final Four history.
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a time when Massachusetts coach John Calipari would turn to his bench and say, ``Rigo,'' and most every UMass follower knew what came next. Minutemen forward Rigoberto Nunez would check into the game and spend the next few minutes behaving, as he put it, like a wild man.
Nunez' role was to provide defense and enthusiasm, and he delivered. He was more known for the latter, however, as he defended chest to chest with bulging eyes, a screaming voice and frantic body movements. His antics, and his athleticism, made him a crowd favorite.
But just when Nunez was on his way to asserting himself, he suffered a torn meniscus at West Virginia his sophomore season. He had offseason knee surgery, and has since seen his time dwindle. As his career went on, Nunez found his best attribute was finding ways to adjust to setbacks on and off the court.
``Before the injury, I was at a place in my game where everything was going the right way, and people were taking an interest in me,'' said Nunez, a Dominican-born resident of Lawrence, Mass., who spent a season and a half as a walk-on.
``After that, it's been tough. No one wants to take a chance on an injured player, even though I'm just as good as I was before the knee injury occurred. I'm in great shape.''
Nunez enjoyed the fact that his energetic approach to the game earned him playing time and made him a crowd favorite. But he knew that would take him only so far if he wanted to play professional basketball in the NBA or overseas. Prior to the injury, he was earning a reputation as a player who rarely took bad shots and was always around for key plays.
Then came the setback.
``My injury occurred late in my sophomore season, and I didn't even know my meniscus was injured,'' he said. ``Then against GWU [three games later] I injured it again and it swelled up that time, so I had an MRI done and we found out how serious it was.''
Nunez has had decent minutes since then but will probably finish his career with one claim to fame -- drawing a controversial intentional foul against St. Joseph's in overtime that led to a UMass win this season. To this day, some (including St. Joseph's faithful) question whether he was fouled.
Nunez is simply pleased that his role changed from a player known just for his effervescence.
``I've changed,'' he said. ``I matured a little bit. I used to go out there to be crazy and wild and get everybody going. I play smarter now. I study defenders more and I see how I'm going to play a defender while I'm on the bench.
``Now, if someone on the team needs an emotional lift, I provide that for us. Like if Edgar [Padilla] is in foul trouble, I talk to him about it. If Marcus [Camby] needs a lift, I cheer him on.''
Nunez was an exceptional high school player, but he knew he would have to make adjustments to his game to fit in on the Minuteman squad.
``When you come out of high school and you average 20 to 30-plus points a game, that's the thing you have to adjust to,'' he said.
``At first, I didn't think I was getting enough minutes. But my role had to change. I saw [UMass forwards] Dana Dingle and Donta Bright doing it for the sake of the team, so I did it as well. We sacrifice for the sake of the team so we can all look good.''
But perhaps the biggest transition Nunez made was from being a walk-on to a scholarship player -- not that it changed in his on-the-court activities. But off the court, it made things a lot easier for him and his family.
``There were times when I didn't know what to do,'' he said. ``I had to pay so many thousands of dollars to the school and here I was playing basketball. I had no time to work. It was tough on my mother. I would call her all the time, and though she works, she doesn't make that much money.
``I thought of everything possible to pay the university. But then Coach Cal helped me out by giving me a scholarship for the second half of my sophomore semester. Now, to know that I have a scholarship and that [his family] doesn't have to worry about it, that helps.''
Although his career has seen setbacks, Nunez is ecstatic about the ending.
``I'm leaving on top,'' he said. ``Not many players can say that they left on top. I'm graduating, and going to the Final Four is like icing on the cake.''
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Edgar and Giddel Padilla play together during summers, on playgrounds, in recreation centers and practice. Never in games. Until last night.
The nation knows Edgar, the younger Padilla. He is the starting point guard for the University of Massachusetts basketball team. He rarely makes mistakes. He's a starter who usually leads the team in minutes played.
Giddel Padilla is a senior walk-on. He played 34 minutes all season and didn't even average a point per game. For the last two months, coach John Calipari has told him to be ready. But that was all theory until the Minutemen were wheezing against Kentucky in last night's national semifinal at the Meadowlands.
``Coach always tells me that he believes in me and knows I can play,'' Giddel Padilla said. ``The guys needed somebody to play defense out there. I know I can play defense. We weren't playing with any emotion. I wanted to give us that.''
Giddel Padilla played eight minutes, his longest stretch of the season. The last time he and his brother played at length in an official game was in high school. But this was an exceptional case. Kentucky guard Tony Delk was hot and Carmelo Travieso needed help checking him.
So Calipari went to an all-Padilla backcourt and a 13-point lead was soon down to 6. Edgar Padilla finished with 12 assists and four turnovers. Giddel had 4 points and one assist, which turned into a 3-point play for Marcus Camby.
The spark was evident for UMass, but the team still lost, 81-74. The Minutemen ended their season 35-2. Last night, several members of the team were making plans to visit their hometowns today.
``Edgar Padilla has done it all year,'' Calipari said. ``I'll tell you, I was most proud of Giddel. You're talking about a guy I haven't played that much. I looked down the bench and said, `Giddel, get in there.' And you know what? He played to win.''
Giddel Padilla has played these games several times in his mind. Before each game, he watches videotapes of opponents. During games, he is as intense as the coaching staff. He didn't think his biggest chance would come in the Final Four, but this was no time to act surprised.
``I play against these guys in practice,'' he said. ``They all have confidence in me. They know I can play defense.''
The Padillas did a good job of defense last night. But they won't be able to play it again for UMass. It was the last game for Giddel, a senior. The next goal is to play together on Puerto Rico's Olympic Team.
``I wish we would have won this one together,'' Giddel said, ``but that's how life goes sometimes.''
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After a couple of timeouts, he met his team at halfcourt and began screaming at them. John Calipari had to do something. His basketball team was dragging, gasping, losing.
``Something was missing all game,'' he said when it was over. ``I still can't put my finger on what it was.''
Calipari was clearly bothered by this. It was one of the few times this season that the University of Massachusetts basketball coach couldn't tell you exactly why his team lost. The Minutemen played well against Kentucky, but the Wildcats were a whisper better during last night's 81-74 national semifinal win at the Meadowlands.
What Calipari was able to do was put his team's 35-2 season in perspective. When the team gathered in a small room, cried and talked about the appreciation they had for each other, their coach talked about how special they are to him. It wasn't all basketball talk.
The coach realizes that there are Latino kids from Jamaica Plain to Springfield who gained ethnic pride in seeing the starting backcourt of Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. He knows that long after Marcus Camby and Dana Dingle have left the Amherst campus, UMass will benefit from what those players established. And, as a coach who has been involved in basketball since he was a kid, he knows that this may not happen again for him.
``I learned more about myself as a coach and a person this year than I have in all my other years of coaching,'' he said. ``And I thanked them, because you're talking about unbelievable human beings that I coached this year. It may never happen again for me to coach a group like this.''
Calipari said he gained a new perspective on basketball. The January collapse of star player Marcus Camby had something to do with it. Perhaps Calipari had taken the game and himself too seriously at times, but that incident gave his basketball focus a makeover.
``I learned that basketball isn't all life and death,'' he said.
This was not his way of rationalizing a loss. He wanted to win. Like most of his players, he probably wanted to get a good cry in private, but long after the game, he stood and answered questions. He acknowledged that the loss hadn't struck him fully when he was asked if he planned to stay in the area for Monday's championship game.
``I don't know,'' he said. ``It depends on how I'm feeling then.''
As midnight approached, Calipari had the look of several UMass fans at game's end. They couldn't believe it was over. They couldn't believe that they wouldn't, for one more night, check the coach's area and see how Calipari was getting on the refs. Or when he would give his first chest-bump to a player and say, ``That's the way you play basketball.''
He said last week that if the Minutemen lost, they would go home and be happy with their 35-2 record. That will come. Just not yet. Last night, he went back to the team's hotel 10 minutes away from here and contemplated checking out, a couple nights earlier than planned.
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|Massachusetts Minutemen (#1)||74|
|Kentucky Wildcats (#2)||81|
|NCAA National Semi-final (Final Four)|
at Brendan Byrne Arena, E. Rutherford NJ
MASSACHUSETTS (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Dingle 31 4-6 0-0 0-4 0 3 8 Bright 32 7-14 1-2 2-9 1 5 15 Camby 36 9-18 7-9 4-8 3 4 25 E Padilla 39 2-10 1-2 2-2 12 5 6 Travieso 26 3-7 2-2 0-4 0 4 10 Weeks 15 0-2 1-2 2-2 1 0 1 Clarke 10 1-2 1-2 0-1 1 1 3 Norville 2 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Nunez 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 G Padilla 8 2-4 0-0 1-1 1 2 4 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 29-64 13-19 11-31 19 24 74 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.453, FT-.684. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Bright 0-1, Camby 0-1, E Padilla 1-3, Travieso 2-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 8 (Camby 6, E Padilla, Weeks). Turnovers: 19 (Dingle 4, E Padilla 4, Camby 3, Travieso 3, Bright 2, Weeks 2, Clarke). Steals: 8 (Bright 2, E Padilla 2, Clarke, G Padilla, Travieso, Weeks). KENTUCKY (81) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Anderson 21 1-3 4-5 2-5 4 4 6 Walker 32 5-10 4-5 1-6 4 2 14 Mccarty 23 4-8 0-0 3-10 4 1 8 Delk 32 7-16 5-9 1-2 0 2 20 Epps 33 3-6 0-0 1-4 4 1 7 Pope 23 1-2 6-6 2-3 1 4 8 Sheppard 10 2-2 3-4 0-2 1 3 7 Turner 6 1-2 0-0 0-1 1 0 2 Mercer 16 4-6 0-1 0-0 1 1 9 Edwards 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 28-55 22-30 10-33 20 20 81 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.509, FT-.733. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Anderson 0-1, Mccarty 0-1, Delk 1-4, Epps 1-2, Mercer 1-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 6 (Walker, Mccarty, Delk, Pope, Sheppard, Edwards). Turnovers: 17 (Delk 4, Walker 4, Anderson 2, Mccarty 2, Sheppard 2, Epps, Mercer, Pope). Steals: 12 (Walker 4, Epps 2, Mercer 2, Anderson, Delk, Pope, Turner). __________________________________ Massachusetts 28 46 - 74 Kentucky 36 45 - 81 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 19,229. Officials: Ed Hightower, Tom Rucker, Mike Kitts.