ARTFORD - It was a better rivalry before the games actually appeared on the schedule. After back-to-back wins against Boston College and Colorado, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was searching for some national respect.
After Tuesday night's 72-55 loss to Connecticut at the Hartford Civic Center, the Minutemen were searching for answers.
The rivalry that once made much of the college basketball world turn its eyes to New England was a dud in just its second year back on the schedule.
The outcome of the game was truly never in question. UConn took an early lead and dominated from tipoff to the final buzzer. The far end of the Husky bench even saw action as E.J. Harrison, Chris Crowley and Jeff Cybart all played.
"We were a step behind Wednesday," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "They beat us to every loose ball and every loose rebound. We just didn't have it. We didn't play well and we lost and we lost big."
The confident guard play that sparked the Minutemen's recent play was absent from Tuesday night's game and the frontcourt's performance wasn't much better. UMass' motto of "Have game. Will travel," seemed to apply to the Minutemen's tendency to take too many steps. Traveling was just one of many ways UMass turned the ball over.
Jon DePina's unsteady play turned into 7 turnovers for the game.
UMass' ballhandling problems came with a matching set of shooting woes, as the Minutemen shot just 32 percent (18-for-55) including a miserable 29 percent (7-of-24) in the first half.
The Minutemen played the game with curiously little emotion, considering the hype that once surrounded the rivalry. The fan turnout (10,797) reflected the falloff in the rivalry's intensity as well. With some seats costing as much $75 dollars, many fans opted to stay home.
"I don't care about that," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "I just worry about what I do. This was a game that 16,000 people should have seen, but I can't worry about that."
Flint wasn't surprised at the lack of fans. "It's two days before Christmas and it costs $75 to see this game," he said. "And we just played BC and it cost $50 to see that game. This game moves to the Mullins next year and people will be packing the place."
Most of those who did show up dressed in maroon and white left early. With the Huskies leading 67-47 with 3:08 remaining, many UMass faithful headed for the exits. According to Flint, his players might have been thinking a little too much about leaving as well.
"We're letting everyone go home for Christmas and I think some people, especially our younger guys, were more concerned about their ride home than the game," Flint said. "Everyone kept saying 'Is my (ride) home going to be here?' I must have heard that 400 times."
The UConn defense gave Lari Ketner trouble all night long.
Flint saw one silver lining in the loss. "In the locker room after the game for the first time since I've been the head coach someone stepped up and said 'We're better than this'," Flint said. "That was good because I didn't have to say it."
That player was sophomore big man Ajmal Basit. The Minutemen will get a chance to prove him right Saturday at 9:30 p.m. (ESPN) when they take on Cincinnati in the Rock and Roll Shootout in Cleveland.
Next year's U-Game returns to campus sites with the Huskies coming to the Mullins Center.
ARTFORD - The bad news for the rest of the Big East is that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun thinks his team can get better. Maybe much better, which is a little bit scary for a team that is already 10-1 and ranked 11th in the country.
Mike Babul couldn't contain UConn's Richard Hamilton.
UMass, which is now 6-4, was not good last night. Or anything close to it.
''I hate to take anything away from UConn,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, ''but we were awful. I don't know what else to say.''
There wasn't much Flint could say. The Minutemen were beaten at their own halfcourt game, they were beaten on the power game, and they were destroyed in the transition game, which UConn does as well as anyone in the country.
The 100th meeting began with a bit of a bite to it. Both teams came into the game on a bit of a roll. UConn, which has climbed in the polls, has not lost since dropping a decision to Florida State in the preseason NIT, while UMass was coming off solid wins over Boston College and Colorado.
But they also came into the Hartford Civic Center, which was only slightly more than half filled last night, road weary. The Minutemen have not been home since Dec. 6 and have to hit the road again for a game against Cincinnati in Cleveland Saturday night.
Flint was not using that as an excuse, but he was also looking for some explanation as to why his team shot only 33 percent, committed 17 turnovers, and looked out of sync most of the night.
''The way we played tonight reminded me of the way we played last season,'' said Flint, referring to a horrible November and December the Minutemen endured in Flint's first season as coach.
|Video clip: Pudgy slips by the Minuteman defense.|
They built a solid 34-23 lead in the first half, collapsing on the Minutemen big men underneath and denying UMass any of its power-game assets.
''Every time we put the ball on the floor or got it inside, they got help from the opposite side,'' said UMass forward Tyrone Weeks, who had 11 points and 9 rebounds, but was basically a nonfactor most of the game. ''They forced us to take bad shots.''
''I was not concerned with the score,'' said Calhoun. ''I was concerned with the pace. We thought if it was a footrace, then we would win this one and somewhere, hopefully in the second half, we would see that moment. About 31 minutes into the game we saw that moment.''
With the Minutemen still hanging around at 45-36, the Huskies went on a 13-2 spurt and doubled their lead to 18 points. From there, they coasted home.
''We're starting to believe we can play for 40 minutes,'' said Calhoun. ''Earlier in the year, we didn't do that.''
Earlier in the season, the Huskies would hit a speed bump at some point in the game that would throw them out of their rhythm of pressure defense and up-tempo play.
But not this time. The teams have met 100 times. Last night's game was the second in a series that is scheduled to run for seven years.
Calhoun thinks the game should be played every year.
It probably will, but last night - in a game that matched arguably the best team in the Big East and one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 - the Big East entry was much the best.
iven that it's late December, one might argue that the college basketball season is just getting started. Perhaps it's time to recognize what the Huskies could be a bit further down the line.
Before a spirited, if relatively tiny, crowd of 10,797 and a national television audience, the Huskies routed their border rival, UMass, Tuesday night at the Civic Center.
The Huskies squeezed the Minutemen into 32.7 percent shooting and emerged with pumped chests and a 72-55 victory. The Huskies never trailed.
UConn sophomore forward Richard Hamilton had no equal. He scored 21 points and had three rebounds, three assists and two steals. He was 8-for-15 from the floor.
Freshman point guard Khalid El- Amin had 18 points and keyed the Huskies' killer run in the second half. His backcourt partner, junior Ricky Moore, contributed 10 points, five rebounds and zero turnovers. Kevin Freeman had 11 rebounds.
UConn (10-1) is ranked No. 11 in the latest national polls.
UMass (6-4) may well be on its way to a Top 25 ranking. Its previous losses came against Top 15 teams: at Fresno State, on a neutral court against Purdue and at Kansas.
They were led Tuesday night by Charlton Clarke (17 points) and Tyrone Weeks (11, nine rebounds).
The Minutemen turned over the ball 17 times. They were ground down.
The Minutemen were put away with a vicious 11-2 run midway through the second half. It was put into motion by El-Amin, who hit a three-pointer.
Hamilton had three points in the run, two on a fastbreak jam. Backup center Antric Klaiber contributed a break-starting steal, an offensive rebound and a three-point play.
When the nasty little run was done, the Huskies had a 56-38 lead and their fans in their pockets.
The Minutemen looked fatigued.
Last year was the first UConn- UMass meeting since 1989-90. UConn won 64-61, but only after a Carmelo Travieso three-pointer rimmed out in the waning seconds at the Civic Center.
Beginning next season, the schools will begin rotating the series between the Mullins Center in Amherst, Gampel Pavilion in Storrs and the Civic Center.
It seems natural, given the non- sellout Tuesday at the Civic Center, which seats 16,294 for basketball.
There was no shortage of intensity, however. The tickets were split between the schools and the crowd was decidedly bi-partisan.
It was a unique atmosphere for a regular season game.
UConn began the game with a little burst. Over the first six-plus minutes, Hamilton had seven points on a baseline drive, a runner in the lane and a three-point field goal.
Moore also hit a three to beat a 35- second violation. The Huskies led 7- 2 and 14-7.
And then the game began to take its form. It developed into a rugged and sometimes ragged struggle between defensively aggressive teams.
There followed a five-minute span rife with hotly contested shots, suffocating presses and turnovers (there were 19 in the first half).
The Huskies began making a very subtle bid for superiority. Defensive superiority.
Beginning with two free throws by Moore with 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the first half, the Huskies went on a 14-3 run that gave them a 29-16 lead.
The Huskies held the Minutemen to one field goal for a span of nearly seven minutes.
At halftime, Hamilton had 11 points and Freeman five blocks and six rebounds. El-Amin, who did some serious contortionist work on a couple of fastbreaks, had nine points and four rebounds.
The Minutemen had 12 turnovers in the first half. In their previous three games, their three-guard rotation had combined to average of 39 points.
But after 20 minutes, Charlton Clarke, Monty Mack and Jonathan DePina had a total of 13 points on 13 field goal attempts. They were feeling the heat from UConn's extended defense.
ARTFORD-- UMass basketball coach Bruiser Flint cajoled, scolded, took players aside for private talks and fiddled with his lineup endlessly.
DePina saw 25 minutes of action.
UConn's Richard Hamilton scored 21 points and the Huskies held UMass to just 33 percent shooting in a 72-55 win before 10,797 at the Hartford Civic Center.
“We were just a step behind -- period,” Flint said. “It didn't matter what they did.”
What the 11th-ranked Huskies (10-1) did was smother the Minutemen inside, then fire up a fast-break offense that broke the game open in the second half.
The strategy allowed the Huskies to win their sixth straight game while snapping a modest two-game winning streak by 6-4 UMass.
UConn leads the series, which dates back to the 1904-05 season, 62-38, and has won seven straight and 15 of 16. The Huskies sweated out a 64-61 win last year, also at Hartford, as Carmelo Travieso missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. UMass hasn't beaten UConn since the 1983-84 season.
Last night the Minutemen cut the lead to 10 points midway through the second half on a drive by Jonathan DePina (6 points, 7 turnovers) only to see the Huskies pull away.
“We had a different kind of test and we were able to get into our game,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who needs just two victories to become the first Division 1 coach in New England to win 500. “We ran to 90 and got 72. We just didn't finish off the fast break, but we will.”
|Video clip: Lari Ketner sends back this Jake Voskuhl shot.|
“We're starting to believe a little bit that we can have a fast-break offense,” Calhoun said.
You need the ball to run, and the Huskies were effective in that end, too. This was the seventh time in the last eight games the Huskies held a team to under 40 percent shooting.
The UConn defense was effective all over the court, but especially inside, where the Huskies held the UMass big men to just 6-for-22 shooting.
“We knew they were going to double team, but I didn't think it was going to last the whole time,” said UMass forward Tyrone Weeks, who scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but didn't get his first hoop until there was less than two minutes left.
Flint, who was disappointed with the effort of his players, said the only bright spot was that his team could now go home for Christmas.
The work of guard Charlton Clarke should not be overlooked, though. He finished with 17 points and was the one player who didn't seem bothered by the UConn defense.
This was UMass' third game against Big East teams, having already beaten Boston College and Seton Hall.
UMass had so much trouble coping with UConn's press and trapping defense in the first half that Flint had to employ a three-guard lineup, something he has said he didn't want to do this season.
It was necessary, though, because the Huskies hounded the Minutemen into 12 first-half turnovers while building a 34-23 lead.
Weeks, meanwhile, was all but invisible in the first 20 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds while committing three turnovers.
The Huskies led by as many as 13 points, 29-16, thanks to a 14-3 run. The advantage was built on a defense that kept UMass from scoring a field goal for nearly seven minutes and limited the Minutemen to 29 percent shooting.
UMass was intent on getting the ball inside to Lari Ketner (9 points, 9 rebounds), but almost every time it did the 6-10 center was swarmed by Huskies.
“Even when we did get the ball inside, we didn't score,” Flint said.
|Connecticut Huskies (#11)||72|
|The MassMutual "U Game"|
at the Hartford Civic Center
CONNECTICUT (72) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Freeman 31 1-6 4-9 2-11 1 3 6 Hamilton 31 8-15 4-5 1-3 3 1 21 Voskuhl 24 2-6 2-2 4-6 0 3 6 Moore 30 3-8 3-4 2-5 2 0 10 El-amin 28 6-12 5-5 0-6 2 1 18 Jones 14 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 2 0 Klaiber 18 1-3 1-1 1-1 0 3 3 Mourning 1 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Hardnett 14 2-4 0-0 0-0 1 3 4 Wane 6 1-1 0-0 0-2 0 4 2 Harrison 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Crowley 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Cybart 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 25-60 19-26 10-34 10 21 72 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.417, FT-.731. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Hamilton 1-3, Moore 1-1, El-amin 1-3, Jones 0-1, Mourning 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Wane 2, Voskuhl, El-amin). Turnovers: 8 (Jones 3, El-amin, Hamilton, Klaiber, Voskuhl, Wane). Steals: 11 (El-amin 2, Freeman 2, Hamilton 2, Klaiber 2, Jones, Moore, Voskuhl). MASSACHUSETTS (55) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Babul 22 0-4 0-2 1-1 0 1 0 Weeks 28 2-6 7-9 2-9 0 2 11 Ketner 27 3-7 3-6 2-9 0 3 9 Clarke 39 7-17 1-2 1-4 1 3 17 Mack 31 2-9 2-2 0-1 0 4 7 Depina 25 3-5 0-0 1-2 3 2 6 Cruz 1 0-2 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 Kirkland 3 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Basit 24 1-4 3-4 6-10 0 4 5 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 18-55 16-25 14-37 4 19 55 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.327, FT-.640. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Babul 0-1, Clarke 2-9, Mack 1-2). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 8 (Weeks 3, Ketner 3, Basit, Babul). Turnovers: 17 (Depina 7, Weeks 3, Basit 2, Clarke 2, Babul, Kirkland, Mack). Steals: 5 (Babul, Clarke, Depina, Ketner, Weeks). __________________________________ Connecticut 34 38 - 72 Massachusetts 23 32 - 55 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Connecticut 1 (Bench). A: 10,797. Officials: Jim Burr, Ted Valentine, Michael Kitts.