Coverage from:
The Springfield Union-News -- notebook
The Boston Globe
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Daily News
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- notebook

More road trouble for Minutemen
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 12/16/1998

VILLANOVA, Pa. - Road warriors? Hardly.

NCAA tournament team? Not even close at this point.

The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team is facing in the wrong direction again, and coach Bruiser Flint admits he is as baffled as he is frustrated.

UMass Focus

HOBBLED GUARDS: Senior guard Charlton Clarke suffered a minor foot injury in practice this week, but played last night against Villanova at The Pavillion. Clarke had averaged 33.5 points per game in the first six Minutemen games. Junior guard Monty Mack had his left ankle retaped heavily in the first half.

CAL ZONE: New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari was in attendance. Calipari, who says he cannot talk about the NBA lockout, also attended the Nov. 18 UMass game at St. John's.

COACH ON KIT: Even the return of Lari Ketner to active status last hasn't diminished coach Bruiser Flint's optimism about the progress of 6-foot-10 sophomore Kitwana Rhymer, who had seven points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes against Boston College Saturday. Ketner sat out that game for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but started last night. "Kitwana missed two weeks (in preseason) with a high ankle sprain that we first thought might be a fracture, but he's been coming around," said Flint, who used Rhymer as his first substitute last night. "He's a real athlete out there."

CALL TO DUTY: Defensive ace Mike Babul, whose assignments have usually meant covering top opposing forwards, started last night's game by shadowing 6-5 guard Howard Brown, Villanova's leading scorer (14.3 ppg.) on most early possessions.

"At times these guys play a little scared, and I don't understand it," Flint said after last night's 66-55 loss to Villanova at the Pavilion. "I think the effort is there, but their guys starting banging us around, and we didn't respond. That's what disappointed me."

UMass is 2-5 entering a four-game homestand that opens Saturday against Detroit. Last night, the Minutemen did more than hit a sour note after a strong showing in defeat to UConn, and a 30-point romp against a weak Boston College team. They fell to 0-4 on the road, and saw the end of the last streak that connected this program to its highwater years.

UMass jumped to a 10-0 lead but lost, marking the first time in 89 games the Minutemen have dropped a game in which they led by at least 10. That last happened in the 1994 NCAA tournament against Maryland.

UMass shot 39 percent, and in keeping with the custom of this season, lost the rebounding battle 43-39. Monty Mack led UMass with 14 points, but missed 13 of 19 shots, including 9 of 11 from three-point range.

Lari Ketner scored 12, but shot only 5 of 16. Point guard Charlton Clarke (4 of 10, 9 points) didn't have an explanation for what's going wrong.

"Some guys want to make hero plays, instead of just getting through the game," Clarke said. He even showed some impatience with Ketner, saying, "It's frustrating. Sometimes he's only two feet from the basket."

Villanova guard John Celestand led a balanced Wildcats' attack with 14 points. Forward Malik Allen and guard Howard Brown each had 11 points, but Flint thought the difference was when Villanova (8-2) got physical, UMass couldn't handle it.

"(Simon) Ogunlese (a 6-10 forward) comes out and beats people to death, and we didn't respond," Flint said. Ogunlese scored four points with five rebounds in 14 minutes.

The best UMass player in the first half, and probably overall, was forward Ajmal Basit. His taunting gestures did not sit well with the sellout crowd of 6,500, but he scored eight point s in the first 15 minutes to keep UMass in the game.

"Ajmal didn't play badly, but he was the only one," said Flint, who called Mack's play "awful." Even Basit, though, went scoreless in the final 25 minutes, and took only one shot in the second half.

After the quick UMass start, a 31-14 Villanova surge gave the Wildcats a 31-24 halftime lead. It grew to 40-26, and UMass never got closer than eight, closing to 59-51 with 2:04 left.

Ketner picked up his second technical foul of the season after throwing an elbow in the first half. In his last two games, he's shot 12 for 34, and those games were sandwiched around a one-game suspenion against Boston College Saturday, when he was punished for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

UMass doesn't go on the road again until Jan. 7 at Fordham. The Minutemen finish their season against Big East teams with a 1-3 record.

Flint doesn't think the answer is shuffling the lineup. Chris Kirkland played only seven minutes last night, after coming off career highs in points and rebounds against BC. Kitwana Rhymer played five minutes, Ronell Blizzard four and Rafael Cruz played only the last minute of a lost game.

"I don't want to put our bench guys in a position where they might lose confidence, but our starters aren't playing well, and that's putting pressure on the bench," Flint said. "We're getting inconsistency from everybody - guys do it one game, then the next game they don't. We've talked about it, but it hasn't helped."

UMass falls to worst start in dozen years
By Frank Dell'Apa, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/16/1998

PHILADELPHIA - The University of Massachusetts basketball team is unaccustomed to unsuccessful starts to the season. And a 66-55 loss to Villanova last night not only signaled the Minutemen's worst beginning since 1986, it exposed some major weaknesses.

UMass (2-5) squandered a 10-point first-half lead and never seemed confident in a come-from-behind mode.

UMass's perceived strengths - perimeter quickness and Monty Mack's outside shooting accuracy, plus Lari Ketner's inside play - were easily countered by Villanova (8-2).

Mack missed 13 shots, four of which were blocked, and Ketner misfired 11 times, including three dunks. Villanova's matchup zone short-circuited the UMass outside attack, and the combination of Malik Allen, Rafal Bigus, and reserves Simon Ogunlesi and Brooks Sales stifled Ketner.

Audio clip: Listen to some of Bruiser's post-game comments.
59k WAV
Courtesey: WHMP
''The guys didn't step up to the challenge,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. ''We had the lead but we knew they would come back. They knocked down some shots and we started missing and we started pressing. There were holes in the zone. We got to the post in the zone. They started spreading out and we didn't step up. I don't think we need to go back to the drawing board. We didn't play particularly well or particularly smart. Certain people have got to do certain things for us to be successful. Shooting is our Achilles' heel. You've got to score. No basketball game is won, 2-0, unless it's a forfeit.''

But the Minutemen seemed static in their half-court offense and unsure with their long-range shooting. That allowed Villanova to confront Mack at the 3-point line and to quickly collapse on Ketner.

After scoring the first 10 points of the contest and holding a 12-3 lead in the first 5:19, UMass's offense almost completely dried up. The Minutemen guards failed to score in the last 15:05 of the first half. Mack injured his left arm in a fall early in the second half but returned to score on a drive. By then, the Minutemen trailed, 36-26, with 17:51 remaining.

''That was a quality team,'' Villanova coach Steve Lappas said of UMass. ''Mack is a great player, and we wanted to contest him on 3-pointers. We wanted to make sure Ketner didn't get the ball on the floor. We didn't want him to get a bounce without somebody digging out on him.''

Yet UMass almost passively surrendered its early advantage. The Minutemen seemed less inhibited once they became desperate late in the second half. But Villanova then increased its aggressiveness.

''With the offense we have, we should be able to score against a zone,'' guard Charlton Clarke said.

Clarke sparked UMass in the second half, driving for a 3-point play to cut the deficit to 49-39 with 7:56 remaining. Ketner missed two foul shots, but Mack countered a Sales tip with a 3-pointer as UMass pulled within 51-42 with 6:02 to go. Then a Mack shot was blocked, leading to two free throws by Howard Brown as the Wildcats took a 55-42 advantage with 4:58 remaining.

''We've got to be more aggressive,'' Flint said. ''They were so spread out, we could have driven to the basket. But the bottom line is that they were more physical. Ogunlesi came in and started beating people to death, and we didn't answer. That changed the pace of the game. They got physical and we didn't get physical back.''

'Nova shakes poor start
The Cats were dreadful the first few minutes, falling 10 points behind. They found their range the rest of the way.
By Joe Juliano, The Philadelphia Inquirer Staff, 12/16/1998

Photo - Click for larger image
Monty Mack goes up past Villanova's Brian Lynch.
Before a national television audience and a cheerful crowd, against a Massachusetts team with a coach and players known to Philadelphia hoop aficionados, Villanova came out threatening to lay a large goose egg.

The Wildcats missed their first 10 shots from the field, fell behind, 10-0, and looked as if they might start to press. Then they found the range and were on the way.

Villanova got contributions from its frontcourt, its backcourt and its bench to down the Minutemen, 66-55, before the usual Pavilion sellout and improve its record to 8-2.

Malik Allen, pounding inside against the UMass tandem of 6-foot-10 Lari Ketner and 6-9 Ajmal Basit, scored 14 points. Howard Brown added 11 points and seven rebounds and three steals. John Celestand delivered 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

The Villanova bench put a sound thrashing on the Minutemen bench, holding a 20-4 edge in scoring by reserve players. Brooks Sales, a 6-10 freshman, pulled down a team-high nine rebounds to go with eight points.

All in all, it was just what coach Steve Lappas wanted as the Wildcats began their seven-day break for final exams.

"This was a solid basketball game and that was very important for us," Lappas said. "That was a quality basketball team we played. What I liked is, once we got the lead, we were able to stay in control. We did the right things, didn't turn the ball over, got the ball off the glass."

And played good defense, both man-to-man and zone. The Minutemen (2-5) shot 39 percent and hit 3 of 15 attempts from three-point range. Three players averaging double figures entering the game -- Ketner, Monty Mack and Charlton Clarke -- were a combined 15 of 45 from the field.

Mack, the No. 2 scorer in the Atlantic Ten behind La Salle's Donnie Carr, scored 14 points but needed 19 shots. Ketner, playing in front of a crowd that included his former coach, John Calipari, made 5 of 16 -- including a missed dunk -- and scored 12 to go with 11 rebounds, but he didn't come to life until it was too late.

"We were just concentrating really on trying to deny Lari the ball and also concentrate on Monty Mack," Allen said. "It's kind of tough to play Lari because he's a big body and it's hard to get around him, but we tried to keep him from putting it on the floor and contested his shot."

The expected matchup between 'Nova's Rafal Bigus and Ketner, the Catholic League players of the year for 1994 and 1995, respectively, failed to amount to much. The 7-1 Bigus missed his first seven shots from the field and finished with four points and two rebounds in 16 foul-plagued minutes.

"Probably both guys were pressing early on," Lappas said. "I told Biggie to relax, and I thought he played much better in the second half even though he had fouls. He had two baskets in a row in our spurt, and I was happy to see him come back."

Ketner, a Roman Catholic graduate, came back, too, but UMass coach Bruiser Flint needs a lot more from him for the Minutemen to get back over .500, not to mention back into the top 25, where they began the year.

"He missed a lot of easy shots," said Flint, the one-time St. Joseph's player. "He has to make shots and do other things for us to be successful."

In addition to Sales, frontcourt sub Simon Ogunlesi accounted for four points and five rebounds. Guard Jermaine Medley hit a pair of threes, the first one giving 'Nova its initial points of the night.

After Medley's basket, the Wildcats slowly cut into the early deficit. They took the lead for good with an 8-0 run that featured three-point goals by Brian Lynch and Celestand, making it 24-18 with 5:53 left in the first half. Medley's three-pointer gave 'Nova a 31-24 lead at the break.

Allen notched three baskets in a 9-2 run at the start of the second half that gave Villanova a 40-26 advantage three minutes in. Even though the Cats went the next nine possessions and six minutes without scoring, their defense was solid, as UMass scored just five points during this time. The Minutemen never got closer than eight in the second half.

With home games against Rider and Howard coming up, the Wildcats have an excellent chance of being 10-2 when they travel to Hartford for a showdown with No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 30.

"Eight-and-two is a nice record, but we've still got room for improvement and we know that," Brown said. "We can't sneak up on anybody. We're looking forward to the break, and then to getting started again."

'Nova goes zero to 60 first in win over UMass
By Dick Jerardi, The Philadelphia Daily News Sports Writer, 12/16/1998

Seems like only yesterday it took Villanova an entire season to win 12 games. Barring a catastrophe, this Villanova team will have at least 10 wins by the end of the calendar year.

That was the deal after a Ski Lodge game last night between the Wildcats and Massachusetts. It was a contest that featured either great defense or terrible shooting. What was always clear was that it was a race to 60. And whichever team got there first was a lock.

Villanova got there first. UMass never got there. So, the 'Cats won, 66-55, despite missing their first 10 shots (five on one possession), trailing, 10-0, and shooting just 36.7 percent for the game. The 'Cats (8-2) won because their bench outscored UMass', 20-4, and they had energy where the Minutemen sometimes seemed uninterested.

When Villanova went to its bench of Jermaine Medley, Simon Ogunlesi, Bobby Smith and Brooks Sales in the first half, the early 10-0 deficit quickly became irrelevant. When 'Nova's subs brought life, UMass seemed to back away.

Once the proud standard-bearer of the Atlantic 10, UMass (2-5) now seems to symbolize the conference's malaise. To understand how it must feel, all you had to do was look at Bruiser Flint's face and listen to his postgame remarks.

"I don't want to say we didn't play with any fire," said Flint, the UMass coach. "Guys didn't step up to the challenge. We knew they were going to come back. This is their home floor. They're a good team.

"We just didn't do certain things. They knocked down some shots. People started missing. We started pressing. That was it."

'Nova coach Steve Lappas, of course, had a different outlook. The 'Cats have beaten four NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago (Nebraska, Arkansas, West Virginia and UMass). And the schedule is such that 18 to 22 wins are well within their reach.

"I think our early-season schedule has been pretty good with some of the quality wins that we've gotten," Lappas said. "I'm very happy looking at the first 10 games."

Malik Allen (14 points) had a second straight strong game for Villanova. Howard Brown and John Celestand each had 11. Sales had eight points and nine rebounds. And Ogunlesi had four points and five rebounds in 14 wild minutes.

Allen, a junior, said: "I'm really starting to get a feel for our offense."

"It took me three years to teach him," Lappas interrupted. "That's great."

He was kidding, sort of.

Flint wasn't kidding when he said Ogunlesi's energy changed the game. He came into the game throwing his body around, and UMass didn't really push back.

"I know that's why they put him in the game," Flint said. "We said, 'He's a bruiser. He comes in to beat you to death.' "

The Catholic League duel between Rafal Bigus ('Nova, Archbishop Carroll) and Lari Ketner (UMass, Roman Catholic) never went down. Ketner missed 11 of 16 shots on the way to 12 points and 11 rebounds. Bigus finished 2-for-9 and scored four points.

"What I liked about it," Lappas said, "is that once we got the lead, we were able to stay in control."

UMass helped. The Minutemen missed dunks, some wide-open looks and nine of 15 free throws. Last season, 'Nova still might not have been able to take advantage. This is different.

"If you ask me, 'Why are you 8-2?' It's because of our rebounding," Lappas said. "What it's done is that people aren't shooting a lot of fouls against us because we're getting a lot of rebounds. We're getting a lot of offensive rebounds so we're shooting a lot of fouls. The biggest difference between this year is how many fouls we've shot. And that's strictly because of our rebounding."

'Nova has attempted 214 free throws to just 137 for its opponents. That's a big number, the kind of number that helps win games.

Brown didn't know what the record would be after 10 games. He just knew this year would be different.

"A lot of the games we lost [ last season ] were from turnovers at the end of the game," Brown said. "I knew we had talent and knew it would come through."

Villanova switched defenses often last night, using an effective zone and a solid man-to-man, always trying to keep Monty Mack, UMass' major three-point threat, in its sights. He went 2-for-11 from the arc and, when that happens, UMass isn't going to beat many teams on its schedule. For them, scoring is just too difficult.

"That's our Achilles' heel," Flint said. "We've got to be able to score, keep teams at bay. We can't keep stopping them. No basketball game's ever won, 2-0, unless it was a forfeit."

This was no offensive masterpiece, not by either team. When the teams combined to miss 74 of 119 shots, that's obvious. But 'Nova got seven treys from four different players and UMass hit its three treys when it no longer mattered.

So, one coach smiled his way out of the interview room. And the other coach lingered at the podium like he was searching for something that he wants to believe is there, but, right now, can't quite find.

Minutemen's fast start fizzles
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff, 12/16/1998

VILLANOVA, Pa. - The road woes continued for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team Tuesday. The Minutemen jumped out to a 10-0 lead and then struggled offensively the rest of the way en route to a 66-55 loss to Villanova at The Pavilion.

"Guys didn't step up to the challenge," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "We knew they were going to come back (from 10-0) on their home floor. They're a good team. We started missing easy ones around the basket and we started pressing and that was it."

"We just came out with a lot of energy at the beginning of the game," said junior Ajmal Basit. "But at the beginning of the second half, they came out and were real aggressive on the boards and we fell behind."

UMass dropped to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 on the road.

The Wildcats (8-2) exposed the Minutemen's weaknesses on the boards and at the free-throw line, outrebounding UMass, 43-39. The visitors were just 6-of-15 from the charity stripe.

The Wildcats led by seven at halftime (31-24) and quickly extended their lead to 14, 40-26. UMass pulled within eight once, 42-34, on a three-pointer by Monty Mack with 10:09 left, but Nova scored the next four points.

Mike Babul wasn't defended closely all night, he nailed a wide-open 3 late in the game.
The lead fluctuated between nine and 13 for the next eight minutes until a rare Mike Babul three-pointer narrowed the margin to 59-51 with 2:05 left.

UMass had a chance to cut the lead to five, but Mack missed a contested three-pointer and the rebound went out of bounds off teammate Chris Kirkland. The Wildcats made their free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

Lari Ketner struggled in his first game after sitting out Saturday's Boston College contest for violating undisclosed team rules. He scored 12 points overall but missed seven of eight shots in the first half. Eight of his points came from within 5 feet of the basket.

He turned in his best rebounding game of the year, grabbing 11 boards.

"It's frustating sometimes," said Charlton Clarke of Ketner. "About two feet from the basket, he just comes up short sometimes. We keep trying to pound it in to him to get his confidence."

"I thought he (Ketner) played hard, but he missed a lot of easy shots," Flint said.

Mack led the Minutemen with 14 points, but was just 6-for-19. Basit had a stellar first half with eight points and five rebounds, but after intermission he didn't score and grabbed just two rebounds.

Malik Allen led the Wildcats with 14 points, while John Clestand and Howard Brown each scored 11.

Early on, it seemed that the Minutemen might blow out the Wildcats. With Mack scoring four points, UMass opened the game on a 10-0 run, as the Wildcats missed their first 10 shots.

Jermaine Medley got Nova on the board with a three-pointer from the top of the key that seemed to get the Wildcats on track. They reeled off a 16-to-6 run to tie the game. Basit's foul-line jumper put the Minutemen ahead for the last time as the home team closed the half on a 15-6 run. During that stretch, Ketner picked up his second technical foul of the season, for throwing an elbow in the lane.

The Minutemen return to the Mullins Center Saturday, when they play the University of Detroit at 7 p.m.

Flint hopes that the friendly confines help solve his team's problems. "We have four games in a row at home and we'll try to pick up some momentum that way," he said.

Flint still searches for answers
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff, 12/16/1998

VILLANOVA, Pa. - As he sat in the post-game press conference after Tuesday night's 66-55 loss to Villanova, University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint put his head in his hands.

After a strong effort in defeat against No. 1 Connecticut and a 75-45 whipping of Boston College, Flint thought questions about his team's heart were over. His team's effort against Villanova gave him cause to re-evaluate.

Jon DePina was ineffective in 6 minutes of work.
"I thought it was behind us. I wouldn't say it puts us back at the drawing board, but we didn't play particularly well and we didn't play particularly smart, either.

"We gotta play tougher," Flint continued. "They beat us to a lot of tough rebounds. At times we've played like this, but I still feel we can pull out of it."

The Minutemen seemed comfortable with the inside matchups of Lari Ketner vs. Rafal Bigus and Ajmal Basit vs. Malik Allen. But when freshman Simon Ogunlesi replaced the plodding Bigus, the dynamic changed.

"The game got a little physical and instead of our guys stepping up and being physical back, we didn't," Flint said. "Ogunlesi came in and started beating people half to death. Instead of us stepping up and beating him back, we didn't. That was the turning point of the game. Once they came back, we played tentative."

For the first time, the Minutemen have used a sports psychologist from Pennsylvania for an extended period of time, but Tuesday night that help didn't seem to provide an answer.

"We've had him since the beginning of the season, because I knew one of the problems with this team would be mental toughness," Flint said.

* * *

Entering Tuesday's game, the Minutemen had won their last 88 games in which they led by 10 or more points at some time during the game. That streak was snapped against Villanova as the Minutemen scored first 10 points of the game but struggled the rest of the way in the loss.

* * *

Sophomore Kitwana Rhymer appears to have supplanted Anthony Oates as UMass' first big man off the bench. After scoring seven points and grabbing 10 rebounds against BC, Rhymer was the first player off the Minuteman bench Tuesday. He played just five minutes and grabbed two rebounds. Oates did not play.

* * *

Senior Charlton Clarke started and played 36 minutes despite straining his Achilles tendon Sunday in practice. He finished with nine points, five assists and no turnovers.

* * *

Former Minutemen coach John Calipari was one of several NBA scouts at the game. Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown also was present.

Massachusetts Minutemen 55
Villanova Wildcats 66
at Villanova

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Babul           28   2-3   3-5   3-5  1  1    8
Basit           29   4-8   0-0   3-8  1  3    8
Ketner          36  5-16   2-7  3-11  1  1   12
Clarke          36  4-10   1-1   0-2  5  4    9
M Mack          38  6-18   0-0   2-3  4  1   14
Rhymer           5   0-0   0-1   1-2  0  0    0
Depina           6   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  1    0
Smith           10   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Kirkland         7   2-2   0-1   1-3  1  2    4
Blizzard         4   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Cruz             1   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
TOTALS         200 23-58  6-15 13-35 13 15   55

Percentages: FG-.397, FT-.400. 3-Point Goals:
3-15, .200 (Babul 1-1, Clarke 0-2, M Mack 2-11,
Cruz 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4
(Ketner 2, Basit, Babul). Turnovers: 12 (Basit 3,
Babul 2, Ketner 2, Kirkland 2, M Mack 2). Steals:
3 (M Mack, Rhymer, Smith).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Lynch           22   2-5   0-0   2-4  1  1    6
Allen           29   3-7   8-8   1-3  1  3   14
Bigus           16   2-9   0-1   1-2  0  4    4
Celestand       31  4-12   1-2   0-6  4  1   11
Brown           34   3-8   4-6   3-7  2  1   11
Medley          16   2-6   0-0   0-1  0  0    6
Sales           20   4-7   0-0   3-9  1  3    8
Smith           15   0-0   2-2   0-1  4  0    2
Ogunlesi        14   2-6   0-0   2-5  0  4    4
Lee              1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Grier            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Bosl             1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
TOTALS         200 22-60 15-19 12-38 13 17   66

Percentages: FG-.367, FT-.789. 3-Point Goals:
7-18, .389 (Lynch 2-4, Celestand 2-7, Brown 1-1,
Medley 2-6). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 6
(Allen 2, Bigus, Celestand, Brown, Sales).
Turnovers: 10 (Celestand 3, Bigus 2, Sales 2,
Lynch, Ogunlesi, Smith). Steals: 7 (Brown 3,
Allen, Lynch, Medley, Smith).
Massachusetts      24   31  -   55
Villanova          31   35  -   66
Technical fouls: Massachusetts 1 (Ketner).  A:
6,500. Officials: John Cahill, Jim Burr, Reggie

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