HILADELPHIA - For the University of Massachusetts, the reward for surviving until Friday of the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time since 1996 is a matchup with the conference's top seed. The Minutemen meet No. 6 Temple tonight at 7.
The Owls, who dispatched Virginia Tech, 71-52, in the early game Thursday, owned the Minutemen in two regular-season meetings. Temple (24-5) hammered UMass, 75-48, on Feb. 1 at the Mullins Center to end UMass' three-game winning streak. UMass (17-14) made it more interesting 25 days later at the Liacouras Center and actually led, 27-24, at halftime, but the Owls rolled after halftime to a 72-54 win.
"We can't be tentative," said senior forward Chris Kirkland. "We have to be aggressive. You have to play hard, rebound and hope things go your way."
UMass coach Bruiser Flint saw things in both losses that he will try to change today.
"I thought we played well the first game, but we missed foul shots at tough times and turned the ball over," Flint said. "We have to rebound and go from there. We'll be ready."
Senior guard Monty Mack is fired up for another shot at UMass' rivals.
"You have to be excited to play Temple," Mack said. "They're one of the best teams in the country."
Temple, which last won the conference tourney in 1990, wants to end the drought.
"As a team everybody wants to win the tournament," said leading scorer (15.4 ppg entering the day) Mark Karcher.
"As a team we want to win this tournament and carry momentum into the NCAA Tournament," said senior guard Quincy Wadley.
With Cincinnati's loss to Saint Louis and the season-ending injury to its star center, Kenyon Martin, Temple may emerge as a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But Chaney is more fearful of having his team face a similar fate.
"I have one fear maybe and that is any injury to key players," he said.
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Tonight's game is on the Atlantic 10 network, but Fox Sports New England, which usually picks up the A-10 Network game, is carrying a Celtics game and will air UMass-Temple on tape delay. Channel 40 will air the game at 7.
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Despite rampant speculation in Virginia that Richmond was about to be invited to be the next member of the Atlantic 10, replacing departing Virginia Tech, it proved to be just a rumor. Conference commissioner Linda Bruno held a press conference to announce that the 11-team format in place for next year will remain for the near future.
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UMass' 65.9 percent shooting percentage was the second best ever in an Atlantic 10 Tournament game. Former conference member West Virginia made 30-of-45 shots, for 66.7 percent in 1979. The best a UMass team has ever shot was 67.3 on Feb. 12, 1991, coincidentally against West Virginia.
Prior to Thursday the Minutemen's best effort this season was 59.4 percent against American Puerto Rico.