Coverage from:
The Springfield Union-News
The Springfield Union-News - DePina focus
The Boston Herald
The Boston Herald - notebook
The Hartford Courant
The Stamford Advocate
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - outlook thus far
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - column
Box score
Video clips
Bonus Pictures

UMass: UConn wins, 79-65
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. On some nights, it probably would have been a good enough effort to win. But not on a night when the opponent is the defending national champion, and playing on its home court.

Photo - click for larger image
Shannon Crooks looks for options as Khalid El-Amin stands guard.
It went down as another University of Connecticut men's basketball success over Massachusetts, a 79-65 final and the third straight win for the Huskies. But it was hardly a demoralizing loss for the Minutemen, even after sixth-ranked UConn improved to 3-1 before a sellout crowd of 10,027 at Gampel Pavilion.

UMass fell to 1-1, but hung tough against a team that was picked to successfully defend its NCAA title in the preseason Associated Press poll. UConn was leading 47-36 in the second half, when UMass used the 3-point shot to get back in the game.

Jonathan DePina hit a bomb to cut the lead to 47-39, and Monty Mack, DePina and Ronell Blizzard hit 3-pointers in an 11-3 flurry that made it 54-51 with 8:30 left.

But Albert Mouring answered with a 3-pointer for UConn, and the Huskies went on an 8-0 run for a 62-51 lead.

The victory was UConn's ninth straight and 17th of the last 18 in the rivalry. The Huskies increased their series lead to 64-38. UMass, which made its first appearance to nine-year-old Gampel, last beat UConn in 1983.

Mack led UMass with 26 points and is averaging 23.5 per game after two contests. Jonathan DePina went 3 for 3 from 3-point range and had 10 points.

UConn's Khalid El-Amin had 18 points and forward Edmund Saunders had 16 (6-for-7 shooting) with 10 rebounds. Souleymane Wane came off the bench to supply 14 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes as the Huskies owned a 48-39 rebounding edge.

UConn also blocked seven shots and held UMass to 32.8-percent shooting.

"We're a different team this year," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "We're more of a power team, with some legitimate size, and we're going to exploit it.

"But I think UMass is a very good team, I really do. The level of competition, for this point in the season, was exceptional."

On the plus side for UMass was Mike Babul's defensive performance against UConn forward Kevin Freeman, who came into the game averaging 13.3 ppg. But with Babul on him, the senior from Springfield, Mass., scored only two points on a first-half dunk and shot 1 for 8.

"Did anyone expect anything different?" UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "People can talk about (Duke's) Shane Battier, but Mike Babul is the best defensive player in the country. We don't help him on defense, and he still shuts people down."

Kitwana Rhymer had a career-high 17 rebounds for UMass.

"They had some big boys in there, so I just went in and tried my best," said Rhymer, a 6-10 junior who fouled out against Iona. "Instead of jumping at them, I tried to move my feet to avoid the fouls."

It was not a game in which the Minutemen could feature their new up-tempo style, given UConn's rebounding strength and the Huskies' place as a nationally-known running team in its own right.

"We didn't score any fast-break points, but we did score in transition," Flint said. "It wasn't a half-court game."

UMass hung tough for a half, trailing 37-31 despite frigid 10-for-32 shooting. The points came almost entirely from the backcourt, with guard play accounting for 24 first-half points and Mack scoring 15.

Just back from a stress fracture in his left foot, the senior guard came off the bench for the second straight game and shot 7 for 21.

UMass didn't help itself from the line, hitting 7 of 13 first-half free throws.

But Calhoun was hit with a technical foul with 1:11 left in the half and the Huskies leading 35-27. UMass, which had converted a flagrant foul by Iona into six points Saturday, made the technical worth four points. Mack hit two free throws and Rhymer scored on a short jumper.

But UConn opened the second half with an 8-3 run for a 45-34 lead, and seemed poised to pull away before the outside game lifted UMass back into contention.

The Minutemen are off until opening their home schedule Monday against Marshall, a team that nearly beat UMass at the Mullins Center two years ago and trounced the Minutemen by 22 points last season.

DePina: Junior finds his shot
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. It is not an offense that University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint prefers.

But last night's 79-65 loss to seventh-ranked Connecticut established that under the right conditions, the Minutemen will use the perimeter game as a scoring option, and for a few tantalizing moments at Gampel Pavilion, it had UMass thinking about an upset.

The Minutemen used four 3-pointers to spark a 17-7 second-half run, cutting UConn's lead to 54-51 and giving the Minutemen a scoring option in the absence of inside opportunities. Monty Mack missed 14 of 21 shots, but still led UMass with 26 points, his second 20-point game in a row.

But a heartening performance also came from junior Jonathan DePina, who hit a career-high three 3-pointers and scored 10 points, including a 3-point shot that made it 52-48 with nine minutes left.

"I've still got to work on the little things, though," said DePina, who committed six turnovers. "I've got to cut down on the little errors that can cost us a game."

Until last night, DePina had never attempted more than three shots from 3-point range in a game, but the lack of confidence he often showed last season has been replaced by a willingness to take the open shot and often make it.

"I feel really confident now," said DePina, whose improved play has been a critical component to the UMass offense, which began the season with only Mack having proven himself as an outside threat.

But UMass had to go outside last night, with UConn shutting off the inside game and also the fast break. The Minutemen hit 8 of 22 shots from 3-point range and is 13 for 35 during their 1-1 start.

For DePina, it was a pressure-packed night, and the 5-foot-9, 185-pound guard couldn't have been expected to do much more than he did. Starting at the point for the second straight game (with Mack coming off the bench and Shannon Crooks at shooting guard), he guarded UConn guard Khalid El-Amin, who is an inch taller and listed as 18 pounds heavier.

El-Amin scored 18 points while working against DePina and Crooks, and his strength gave DePina trouble even when the UMass guard played him in a fundamentally sound way. As for Mack, UConn coach Jim Calhoun thought the UMass guard forced a few second-half shots and showed signs of fatigue toward the end.

UMass runs out of steam: UConn takes control late
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. - Here was the difference between rivals UMass and UConn last night:

UConn's Justin Brown drives past Kit Rhymer.
UMass, faced with a chance to trim UConn's lead to four points with 7:45 left, threw the ball away. UConn, presented with the turnover, flexed a little bit before bearing down on its uncertain visitor with a lethal 14-3 run.

The Minutemen may be a bit wiser for their 1-1 record, courtesy of last night's 79-65 loss to the defending national champion Huskies. Monty Mack (game-high 26 points) and center Kitwana Rhymer (career-high 17 boards) certainly belong in a game against this rarefied company.

But there are miles to cover between the smallish Minutemen and the veteran Huskies team that was able to simple say ``enough is enough,'' and then do something about it.

``I don't like it to happen, but I also like to see what happens when a lead goes from 14 to, say, four points,'' said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. ``Mack hits (a 3-pointer) for them, and then (Ronell) Blizzard hits one - it's in his bio that he's a 3-point shooter - and then (Jonathan DePina) hits a very tough 3-pointer.

``And then bang, we push it right up again.''

Bang, as in the automatic hand of shooting guard Albert Mouring. He had missed a deep 3-point attempt when the loose ball suddenly came bouncing back out to him on the right side of the circle. The guard reloaded and swished a step-back trey for a 57-51 lead with 8:23 left.

Chris Kirkland was able to get position down the other end, only to stretch in vain as DePina's lob pass sailed overhead and over the baseline.

That, from what UMass coach Bruiser Flint can see, was the point of deflation.

Blizzard committed three fouls in the next three minutes on three UConn players, resulting in three trips to the line.

By the time the 14-3 run peaked with an improbable Khalid El-Amin shot - the UConn guard somehow batted it through from 5 feet away after DePina stripped it loose - the Minutemen had settled back into fouling down the clock.

You don't beat the national champs that way.

``Having to come back in this game all the time took its toll,'' said Flint. ``They wore us down.''

Indeed, many teams will be worn down by UConn this year. Calhoun has remade the look of his team, now with an emphasis on the shot-blocking power of Souleymane Wane and Ajou Deng as supplements to Jake Voskuhl and Kevin Freeman.

UConn, with those four doing most of the damage, outrebounded the Minutemen by a 48-39 margin.

This, despite the strong effort from Rhymer. Unfortunately for him, little other help on the glass could be found.

``There were some big boys out there,'' said Rhymer. ``I just went out there and banged. With guys like Voskuhl and Souleymane, they have some big bodies.''

Defending champ Huskies come up big
UMass Notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. - Remember, this is the team Richard Hamilton and Ricky Moore left behind.

Kit Rhymer can't stop UConn's Tony Robertson.
But there still was enough left in last night's 79-65 win over UMass for five UConn players to finish in double figures, as well as a sixth with nine points. Three had seven or more rebounds, and a fourth had six.

Big men Jake Voskuhl, Souleymane Wane and Ajou Deng combined for seven blocks - the latter with four. Swingman Edmund Saunders had 10 rebounds. Voskuhl had four assists.

When coach Jim Calhoun told people he was switching gears to an inside-oriented team this year, many took his word with the same wariness that's reserved for any other coach's preseason promises. But with his front line producing numbers like this, to go along with the offense of guards Khalid El-Amin and Albert Mouring, the plan appears to be chisled in stone.

``Tonight we really made that effort to get inside,'' said Calhoun. ``I didn't think that anyone could really stop our kids inside tonight.''

Mack ends on wrong foot

Monty Mack scored 26 points before limping off the floor last night.

``I just landed on it wrong, but it's OK,'' the UMass senior guard said of his healing left foot, which he fractured in September and required an extra long icing after the game. . . .

Only UConn forward Kevin Freeman seemed out of step last night, though with good reason.

UMass forward Mike Babul, two days after taking Iona scorer Tariq Kirksay out of the offense in the second half of UMass' season-opening win, drew Freeman as an assignment last night.

Freeman finished with two points on 1-of-8 shooting, far from his norm.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint was moved enough by Babul's effort, coming as it did on the heels of the Iona game, to call Babul ``the best defender in the country. He shut down four first-round draft picks last year.'' . . .

Tall praise for Minutemen

Calhoun, after three years of watching Lari Ketner play some of his best college basketball against the Huskies, pronounced last night's UMass unit better.

``Ketner's a terrific talent, and (Ajmal) Basit's a good player, but that's a better team that they have out there right now,'' he said. ``The level of our competition was exceptional tonight.'' . . .

The series stays on campus next year, returning to the Mullins Center in Amherst before switching back to the Hartford Civic Center in 2001-02.

Wane Comes Up Big As UConn Shuts Door
By Desmond Conner, The Hartford Courant, 11/23/1999

STORRS - The UConn men's basketball team is slowly but surely becoming the solid unit coach Jim Calhounhas so craved.

There were concerns that with six new faces, it would take awhile before it actually happened.

Jake Voskuhl and his hair get trapped in a Chris Kirkland-Micah Brand sandwich.
But in their 79-65 victory over UMass before a sellout crowd of 10,027 at Gampel Pavilion Monday night, the Huskies showed they can win without a big game from Khalid El-Amin, Albert Mouring, Kevin Freeman or Jake Voskuhl.

As long as the Huskies stay true to their strength, the inside game (outscoring UMass 36-18 in the middle), then guys like Souleymane Wane (yes, Souleymane Wane) and Edmund Saunders can pick up the slack. And along with key contributions from some of the reserves, UConn can take out pesky teams like UMass.

That's what you call a solid unit.

El-Amin led the Huskies with 18 points and Mouring added 10. But Wane came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points and seven rebounds. Saunders, sitting most of the first half in foul trouble, was motivated by the lost time then came on strong to finish with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

There was the spirited play of freshman Tony Robertson (nine points) and Ajou Deng with four points, four blocks and and three rebounds.

The Huskies were able to dominate the glass (48-39) and put the clamps on the Minutemen's offensive spark, Monty Mack (26 points, 11 in the second half) to wrap up their third victory of the season in four tries.

It didn't come easy. The fiery Minutemen were indeed pesky, but not enough for the defending national champion.

The Huskies built a 10-point lead on a Saunders free throw with 10:18 left in the game, but UMass kept coming. Mack hit a field goal and a three-pointer, then Jonathan DePina hit a three- pointer. All of a sudden it was a game. UConn led 52-48 with 9:20 to go in the half.

The Huskies had to call a timeout to regroup.

But UConn outscored UMass 14-5 over the next 5:16 and simply wore down the Minutemen, particularly inside.

The Huskies were threatening to blow the game open early in the second half but couldn't quite complete the deal. They built a 47-34 lead on a one- handed push shot in the lane by Wane, but moments later, Wane goaltended a Ronell Blizzard attempt to make it an 11-point game. DePina swished a three- pointer from the left of the key to cut the deficit to eight.

UConn got its first double-digit lead when Mouring connected on follow thirty seconds into the half, giving UConn a 41-31 lead.

UConn, shooting 41 percent from the field, led 37-31 at halftime thanks to a 30-18 advantage on the boards, balanced scoring, some poor free throw shooting (7 of 13) by the Minutemen and a boisterous crowd that sounded off throughout the entire first half.

El-Amin led the scoring charge with 10 first-half points. Mack, coming off the bench and still recovering a stress fracture in his left foot, showed no ill effects. He had 15 to lead all scorers in the first half.

The most interesting fact about the first 20 minutes is that both teams, which like to run, scored nary a point off the fastbreak.

Both teams played well defensively. The Huskies played it a little better, holding UMass to 31 percent from the field. But the Minutemen never let the Huskies exceed double digits. UConn's biggest lead was eight, 35-27 with 1:11 left to intermission. That's when Calhoun was whistled for his first technical foul of the season, for stepping on the court. Mack hit both free throws to cut the lead to six.

The Minutemen were primed to make this a game of the backcourts, but the Huskies were much smarter than that. Their strength is in the frontcourt. And they dominated UMass in the paint with a 20-8 edge. UConn's forwards and centers scored 21 of their 37 first half points. Even seldom-used Justin Brown made the most of his one minute. He spun off a defender on the baseline for a dunk with 17:08 left to give the Huskies a 5-3 lead.

The Huskies shook off their nervousness first with a 6-0 run to forge an 18- 10 lead with 11:24 left. El-Amin and Deng, one of five reserves Calhoun used in the first 10 minutes, sparked the run. Deng hit a long jumper from the corner and scored again on a follow. And El-Amin hit a running shot from the baseline before UMass signaled for the timeout.

UConn Powers Past UMass
By Rich DePreta, The Stamford (CT) Advocate, 11/23/1999

STORRS - Maybe it's time to start calling them "The Power Rangers."

UConn's Edmund Saunders gets past Chris Kirkland, Jonathan DePina looks on.
"In the past, we were the big team and UConn beat us on the perimeter," UMass coach Bruiser Flint reflected in the aftermath of the University of Connecticut men's basketball team's 79-65 victory over the Minutemen last night at Gampel Pavilion.

"Tonight, it was just the opposite."

Indeed, there was no question who had the power last night. UConn are the defending NCAA champions but the sellout crowd of 10,027 fans as well as an ESPN2 national TV audience saw the Huskies wearing a whole new skin.

How many nights do you see forward Edmund Saunders (16 points, 10 rebounds, 20 minutes) and Souleymane Wane (14 points, seven rebounds, 16 minutes) post career-high scoring totals?

How many evenings do you witness senior center Jake Voskuhl lead the Huskies in assists (four)?

"I did lead the team in assists. Look it up," Voskuhl said. "I had a good time out there. It was fun to play tonight. All the big guys gave each other a lift."

All those big contributions in the low post propelled the No. 7-ranked Huskies to 3-1 on the season despite the fact they outscored UMass (1-1) by a 2-0 margin in fast break baskets.

"Yes, this is a different type of team," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "It is more of a power team. We have to exploit that as much as we can. We banged the boards early (15 offensive rebounds in first half, 20 overall). And we made scoring inside (36-18 edge in points in the paint) a priority."

The combination of some tenacious perimeter defense by UMass and a paucity of picks and screens by UConn made scoring outside a tough nut for the Huskies to crack.

Although Khalid El-Amin led the UConn attack with 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting, the junior guard had no assists and was 1-for-6 on 3-pointers in 35 minutes.

And don't forget the travails of Albert Mouring (10 points, 2-for-9 field, 1-for-4 on 3-pointers, 34 minutes) and Kevin Freeman (1-for-8, two points, 37 minutes).

Now it's crystal clear why UConn didn't need Horace Greeley to tell them "Go Inside, young men!"

"We need the big men to produce and they did," El-Amin said. "We have to get them the ball."

Souleymane Wane played a key role in UConn's inside game.
Having gotten a taste, Saunders and Wane will happily accept all the passes the Huskies want to throw in their direction.

"I felt comfortable out there the whole game. I was hungry and energized," said Saunders, who was 6-for-7 from the field as well as a deft passer. "Last year, I committed stupid fouls and tried to do everything on the court. This year, I'm trying to execute and just do my part."

It is obvious to all that Wane (5-for-8 shooting) spent a good portion of his summer improving his turnaround, fallaway jumper.

"Souleymane is getting some swagger and savvy about himself on the court this year," El-Amin said. "When he plays like this, we have to get him touches."

"With Souleymane's long arms and the fact he's falling away, it's so hard for anybody to block that turnaround jumper," said Voskuhl, who gets punished by the weapon in practice. "I'm really happy to see Soul's progress. He deserves all this after working so hard."

And UMass, behind Monty Mack's game-high 26 points and Kitwana Rhymer's game-high 17 rebounds, made UConn work hard for the victory.

Leading 37-31 at intermission, the Huskies opened the second half with an 8-2 spurt for a 45-33 edge with 16:06 to go.

UConn led 52-42 with 10:18 to play when UMass nailed a trio of 3-pointers to close to 54-51 with 8:45 remaining. But the Huskies responded to the gauntlet in this rough and tumble affair.

Mouring nailed his lone 3-pointer after grabbing his own rebound on his missed 3-pointer seconds earlier for 57-51 at 8:23.

From there, UConn was in charge. The Huskies would ultimately put together a 12-2 surge - capped by El-Amin's off-balance jumper with two seconds on the shot clock - for 66-53 with 4:04 to go.

UConn out-sizes UMass, 79-65
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. - The small contingent of University of Massachusetts fans in Gampel Pavilion Monday night were getting excited. After trailing by 13 points early in the half, the Minutemen had used a 17-7 run to get back within three points of defending national champion Connecticut at 54-51 with 8:46 left, and seemed to be gaining momentum.

The UMass offense looked one-dimensional at times, with Monty Mack taking 1/3 of the shots.
But the Huskies pushed the ball quickly up the floor, where Albert Mouring launched a 3-pointer. It missed, but the rebound bounced to UConn center Souleymane Wane, who kicked it back to Mouring. The junior guard didn't miss this time, burying the three with 7:42 left. The basket launched a 12-2 run that put the Huskies comfortably ahead, and they went on to defeat the Minutemen, 79-65.

"We had our chances," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "We made some mental errors and we didn't take advantage of the things that they gave us."

The game concluded a three-game extended weekend U-series that saw the Minutemen win in hockey and football.

UConn built its victory Monday on its interior presence. The Huskies outrebounded the Minutemen, 48-39, and scored twice as many points in the paint, 36-18.

"They're just too big for us," Flint said. "Their size just wore us down. We're not going to run up against size like this in our league. Temple is the biggest team but everyone else is like us."

Wane, who came in averaging 2.5 points per game, erupted for 14 points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes, while power forward Edmund Saunders had 16 points and 10 boards.

"We really banged the boards early," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "We told them to get the ball inside. We are a little different than we've been. We're a more power-oriented team with Jake (Voskuhl), Souleymane, Edmund, Kevin (Freeman) and Ajou (Deng). We do have some legitimate size there. We're going to try to exploit that as much as we can."

Despite being outmanned in the paint, Minuteman center Kitwana Rhymer grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds to go with seven points. He also managed to stay out of foul trouble and play 38 minutes.

"He's been playing great," Flint said. "He was in there by himself a couple of times and they've got some big dudes."

"There were some big boys in there," Rhymer said. "I just went out there and tried my best."

Monty Mack didn't start for the second straight game, but led the Minutemen in scoring again with 26, including 15 in the first half. The Huskies slowed him down a bit after intermission by moving forward Kevin Freeman over to guard him.

Bonus coverage: Check out the TotalCast stats
"We did a good job of finding one of the better players we play against and that's Monty Mack," Calhoun said. "In the first half he lit us up. We finally used Kevin Freeman on him and Kevin's size made a big difference."

In addition to its problems on the glass, UMass shot just 32.8 percent for the game.

UConn never trailed and opened a double-digit lead just over halfway through the first half, 22-12. But a pair of long threes by Mack kept the Minutemen within striking distance. They trailed, 37-31, at halftime.

The hosts raced out of the gates in the second half with a 10-3 run that put them ahead, 47-34, with 15:30 left in the game.

But the Minutemen answered with contributions from some unexpected sources. Ronell Blizzard started the run with a drive to the basket. Jonathan DePina (10 points), who was perfect from behind the 3-point arc, buried a trey to cut the deficit to single digits at 47-39. Mack, DePina and Blizzard all sank 3-pointers to shrink the Husky lead to 54-51, but they never got any closer as Mouring delivered the knockout blow.

Khalid El-Amin led the Huskies with 18 points.

Calhoun praised the Minutemen after the game.

"I think they are a good team," he said. "They battled us for everything."

NOTES: UConn beat UMass for the eighth consecutive time, and has won 17 of 18. The Huskies lead the series, 64-38 ... The Minutemen (1-1) return to action at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 for their home opener against Marshall.

Strengths, weaknesses emerging
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. - A year ago, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team headed into its game against Connecticut with one of the biggest front lines in the nation.

With five players standing 6-feet-8 or taller, the Minutemen figured to pound the ball inside and overpower the Huskies. It didn't work. UConn was small, athletic and quick, and upended the Minutemen, 59-54.

Monday night the Minutemen sported a new system and players who were smaller, quicker and athletic, while the Huskies brought the bigger players.

Still the result was the same. UConn won. UMass left frustrated. That's been the pattern since the two schools revived the rivalry in 1996.

The good news for the Minutemen is that with UConn already in the books, UMass doesn't face many front lines that big the rest of the year. Texas and Temple certainly will present size problems, and Villanova has some bulk, but beyond that the smaller Minutemen should match up size-wise with most of their opponents.

How the Minutemen would handle a bigger opponent was just one of the questions surrounding UMass in the preseason. After two regular-season games, these preseason questions are beginning to be answered.

Q: Can Kitwana Rhymer be enough of a presence at center to open space for his teammates?

A: Rhymer showed flashes of brilliance against Iona Saturday, but was plagued by foul trouble. Monday night he avoided the cheap fouls and delivered a 17-rebound effort against UConn's sizable front line.

If he can stay out of foul trouble, he could be a significant factor for the Minutemen.

Q: How long will it be before Mike Babul and Monty Mack recover from their preseason injuries and contribute?

A: It didn't take them long. Babul followed a stellar defensive effort against Iona by clamping down on UConn's Kevin Freeman Monday, holding him to just six points.

"They can say what they want to say about (Duke's Shane) Battier, but Mike is the best defensive player in the country," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "Last year he shut down four guys who were first-round (NBA draft) picks."

Mack has led UMass in scoring both games so far and has been able to get off shots even when opponents are guarding him closely. Late in Monday's game, he stumbled and appeared to injure his left leg, but after the initial pain, Mack seemed all right. "He just came down on somebody's foot," Flint said. "They said he should be OK."

Q: Will Shannon Crooks make a major difference for the Minutemen and will junior Jonathan DePina bounce back from last year's difficult campaign?

A: Crooks has shown flashes of what could be, but so far he hasn't been the take-over-the-game guard that some people expected.

"He's just got to learn game-by-game," Flint said. "He got a little over-anxious at times. But he's going to be fine."

Meanwhile, the vast improvement by DePina has helped lessen Crooks' load.

Q: Can newcomers Micah Brand and JoVann Johnson help right away?

A: Both have struggled in the early going. Brand needs to add bulk and strength, while Johnson seems to have fallen victim to matchup problems so far. Flint expects them to contribute down the road.

Q: Are the Minutemen good enough to get back to the NCAA Tournament?

A: It would be far too premature to say yes or even maybe, but it would be too pessimistic to say no.

The Minutemen have shown signs of improvement from a year ago, especially by overcoming a nine-point deficit to beat Iona, which manhandled them last year. There is a long way to go and lots of things can happen, but if UMass can play like that and beat the teams it is expected to beat in and out of conference, it will have a shot.

Out on a limb for Minutemen
By Andrew Ayres, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/23/1999

STORRS, Conn. - The wiseguys might say I actually enjoy slamming my hand in car trunks. They think I want telemarketers calling me at all hours. They think I want to go to the theater and sit through four straight showings of "Pokemon."

Really, I'm not that kind of guy. But the wiseguys might think writing a column about a University of Massachusetts men's basketball team that has just lost by 14 points is a pointless exercise in mental toe-stubbing.

But wiseguys are never that wise. After witnessing two hours of Minuteman basketball here against the defending national champions, I am hopeful - I daresay even cautiously optimistic - about the prospects for the Minutemen this season.

In some eternally grumpy corners of the Happy Valley, the Minutemen's 79-65 loss to the University of Connecticut might occasion the usual grimacing observations that all Minuteman roads lead to the NIT, that it'll never be like the glory days of the Cambyman and the Final Four.

But I'm here to say that's not the case, because the score, the score ... All right, I'm stopping the column right here.

You're waiting for me to say the game was closer than the score indicated. Admit it, you are.

It wasn't. The score was about right. While UConn doesn't have that almost perfect symmetry and chemistry that led to its national championship last year, the Huskies still are still Final Four material. As long as they have Khalid El-Amin, a point guard with heart and a game that is the epitome of fun, they have a chance.

The Minutemen have a chance, too. At what? Let's leave it at that, a chance. Upon inspection, and weighing all the inconclusive evidence, I have decided that I like this edition of Bruiser Flint's team, his fourth one on the Amherst campus.

This stop-the-presses declaration confirms what I'd seen while sitting in the stands about two weeks ago, watching the team's last exhibition game.

This is the first time Flint's running the show without a center around which the whole game revolves. Lari Ketner got his first NBA playing time last week with the Chicago Bulls. For better or worse, his departure from the UMass lineup has left this a changed team.

The first time I ever saw Flint, somewhere back in the mid-1980s, I remember sitting in the stands, watching him feed St. Joseph's teammate Rodney Blake for another two points down low. Blake was one dominant big guy the struggling Minutemen couldn't handle. Since UMass was powerless to stop him, the Curry Hicks Cage "crowd" would offer Rodney chants, in the spirit of the Darryl Strawberry chant freshly minted during the 1986 World Series.

Here's a telling postgame comment from Flint Monday, signaling that this Minuteman team is not your father's Oldsmobile. "They're just too big for us," Flint concluded.

Now, this is Flint's first UMass team that doesn't have a Blake-like presence in the middle. It actually could have helped in this game, because UConn's 6-11 big dudes Jake Voskuhl and Souleymane Wane were sometimes in the game at same time - just too much size.

Kitwana Rhymer did a fine job battling two centers bulkier than he, pulling in 17 rebounds. He seemed to get board after board. He's a center, without being the center of attention.

Another reason to be cheerful: Monty Mack continues to make hard shots look easy. After he hit a few threes here, UConn coach Jim Calhoun was sending the entire student body in his direction.

Mack can shoot. And we trust he will never pull an Allen Iverson. Remember how the NBA's reigning scoring champ kept taking - and missing - ill-advised fallaway jumpers along the baseline with multiple Minutemen hanging on him during the sweetest win of the memorable 1996 NCAA run?

Ah, the mere mention of those glory days. It's enough make me want to slam my hand in a trunk.

Video clips

Kit Rhymer loses the rebound to Edmund Saunders. (668k AVI)
Ajou Deng gets inside position on the Minuteman D. (525k AVI)
Shannon Crooks exploits the hang-time and scores. (625k AVI)

The Minuteman boxes out the Husky for inside position on the camera. (407k MPEG)

Bonus Pictures

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Massachusetts Minutemen 65
Connecticut Huskies (#7) 79
The MassMutual "U-Game"
at UConn

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        28  4-12   1-4   4-5  1  4    9
Babul           33   1-5   0-0   2-4  5  2    2
Rhymer          38   3-8   1-2  9-17  0  2    7
Depina          25   3-5   1-2   1-2  2  4   10
Crooks          23   2-9   2-5   2-2  2  2    6
Oates            1   0-1   0-0   1-1  0  0    0
Blizzard        12   2-4   0-0   0-1  0  5    5
Johnson          4   0-2   0-0   0-1  1  2    0
Mack            31  7-21   8-8   0-0  0  3   26
Smith            3   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Brand            2   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
TOTALS         200 22-67 13-21 19-33 11 24   65

Percentages: FG-.328, FT-.619. 3-Point Goals:
8-22, .364 (Kirkland 0-2, Depina 3-3, Crooks 0-2,
Blizzard 1-2, Mack 4-13). Team rebounds: 6.
Blocked shots: 3 (Rhymer 2, Blizzard). Turnovers:
15 (Depina 6, Crooks 4, Mack 2, Johnson,
Kirkland, Rhymer). Steals: 5 (Babul 3, Mack 2).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Saunders        20   6-7   4-9  3-10  2  4   16
Freeman         37   1-8   0-2   3-6  1  0    2
Voskuhl         24   2-7   0-0   2-7  4  2    4
Mouring         34   2-9   5-6   3-4  3  2   10
El-amin         35  6-15   5-6   0-0  0  2   18
Deng            14   2-3   0-0   1-3  0  1    4
Watson           1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Brown            2   1-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    2
Robertson        9   3-5   3-5   1-6  1  4    9
Wane            16   5-8   4-4   5-7  1  2   14
Cox              1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Wrenn            7   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
TOTALS         200 28-63 21-32 18-43 12 18   79

Percentages: FG-.444, FT-.656. 3-Point Goals:
2-12, .167 (Mouring 1-4, El-amin 1-6, Robertson
0-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 7 (Deng 4,
Voskuhl 2, Wane). Turnovers: 14 (El-amin 4,
Mouring 3, Wane 3, Saunders 2, Brown). Steals: 9
(El-amin 2, Wane 2, Freeman, Robertson, Saunders,
Voskuhl, Wrenn).
Massachusetts      31   34  -   65
Connecticut        37   42  -   79
Technical fouls: Connecticut 1 (Bench).  A:
10,027. Officials: Jim Burr, John Cahill, Reggie

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