Coverage from:
The Boston Herald
The Springfield Union-News
The Daily Hampshire Gazette


Minutemen focus on S. Illinois
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/21/1999

A quick across-the-board look told Monty Mack that he was better off staying inside the hotel yesterday.

The nearby Puerto Rican beaches and tourist attractions obviously are the main selling points to a young player for this week's Puerto Rico Holiday Classic in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

It also is like ice cream before a game for a team that has just improved to 5-3 - an absolutely unconscionable thought.

``With a game right ahead, there's no time for anything else for us right now,'' the UMass senior guard said of today's first-round game against Southern Illinois (4 p.m.)

UMass plays either Tennessee or host American-Puerto Rico in tomorrow's second round, with the final round scheduled for Thursday.

Saturday's 69-60 win over Florida State qualified as the biggest of the early season on at least two fronts.

A win over an ACC school is like gold at any time of the year.

The Minutemen now have a combined 3-1 record against the Big East and ACC - a solid non-conference hand to carry into the start of Atlantic 10 play the first week of January.

Mack didn't need the confidence that the Florida State win shot into the systems of some of his less-certain teammates. But he can see where that game could potentially push a few of those delicate UMass psyches over the top.

``It showed people on this team that they can play on this level,'' he said. ``Some of these guys have to realize that if they couldn't play at this level then they wouldn't be here to begin with.''

But to make that win truly count, the Minutemen have to follow up with a strong performance against this week's tournament field, which also includes surging Boston College, UNC-Charlotte, Tulsa and Illinois-Chicago.

Mack, who scored a season-high 30 points against Florida State, received superb support on a number of fronts. There was teammate/roommate Jonathan DePina's ability to disrupt the Seminoles guards, and Kitwana Rhymer's presence under the basket down the stretch.

These are just a few of the items Mack needs to truly move his own game along, in addition to issues like steady second and third offensive options and everyone showing more willingness with the ball.

Mack is willing to say his team has progressed, with the Florida State game standing as evidence.

``It makes it easier for me if people just do what they are supposed to do,'' he said. ``I feel the load is lifting a bit. It's basically everyone knowing their roles. It's a matter of people helping out, stepping to the basket when they're supposed to, things like that. Everyone knows what can be accomplished.''


Opponent shoots for consistency
UMass notebook
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/21/1999

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico Today's University of Massachusetts men's basketball opponent is fighting inconsistency, but hasn't missed enjoying a superb start by very much.

Southern Illinois (3-4), which meets UMass in today's Puerto Rico Holiday Classic quarterfinal, has lost three games by a total of seven points, beaten defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Evansville by 31 and weaned itself off an exaggerated reliance on 3-point shooting. The Salukis still average 19.3 tries from 3-point range per game under coach Bruce Weber, who was 15-12 in his first season a year ago.

Weber has gradually established some balance to an offense that averaged nearly 30 shots from 3-point range the year before he came, and nearly 24 per contest last season. The Salukis' starters include 6-foot-7 senior Derrick Tilmon, 6-9 senior Chris Thunell, 6-2 freshman Kent Williams and 5-11 senior Ricky Collum, and all are averaging double-figure scoring, with Williams (14.6 ppg) leading the way.

Lately, the other starting spot has been held by 6-1 Brandon Mells, which gives Southern Illinois a three-guard look. Abel Schrader, a 6-4 junior swingman, started for the first four games but has been more effective coming off the bench so much so that he may start in Mells' place, unless Weber decides Schrader remains more useful as a reserve.

The Salukis are hardly huge, but they won the rebounding battle in their first six games and lost only 79-74 at Ball State, which belted Purdue 72-52 Saturday. Southern Illinois also lost heartbreakers to Long Beach State and Santa Clara by identical 78-77 scores.

Joshua Cross, a 6-4 junior, and 6-8 freshman Jermaine Dearman also see action. Dearman had 14 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's 80-73 loss to Southwest Missouri State.

PAIRINGS:

The UMass-Southern Illinois game will be followed by tonight's 7 o'clock quarterfinal between Tennessee and the American University of Puerto Rico. The two winners of those games will meet at 7 tomorrow night, while the losers will clash at 1:30.

Today's other quarterfinal matchups pit North Carolina-Charlotte against Illinois-Chicago at 11 a.m., and Tulsa against Boston College at 1:30. For BC, it's a quick turnaround after Sunday afternoon's 89-71 home win over Michigan.

KIT'S CONTINGENT:

UMass center Kitwana Rhymer will have several family members in attendance today. Rhymer is from the Virgin Islands, and this tournament gives the family a rare chance to see him.

"I'm very excited," the 6-10 junior said. "It's a great chance to come back to the (Caribbean) area again."

MONTY'S VALUE:

UMass coach Bruiser Flint said Saturday's win at Florida State proved Monty Mack's value is not just as a scorer, but as a total player.

"I told Monty after the Detroit game (in which Mack was benched at the end after scoring four points in 33 minutes) that we needed him to do all the things he does well to help us win," Flint said. "We don't need him to score 1,000 points (a game)."

Actually, Mack has scored more than 1,000 1,139 to be exact but it's taken him his entire career. Now 25th all-time at UMass, Mack could pass Lari Ketner and Will Herndon (each with 1,148), early 1960s star Rodger Twitchell (1,151) and Rafer Giles (1,163) in the next game or two.

Above them are Carmelo Travieso (1,186) and John Murphy (1,184), so if Mack averages 16 points in this week's three Puerto Rico games, he'll soar from 25th to 19th on the all-time UMass scoring list. He's averaging 19.2 points this season.


UMass faces Classic test
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1999

BAYEMON, Puerto Rico - It's hard to imagine that a December game with Southern Illinois could have significant postseason implications, but that is the scenario that the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team faces at 4 p.m. today in its first game of the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.

The winner of the game faces the winner of the game between Tennessee and American-Puerto Rico. Barring the upset of the year, Tennessee will win. So a win for the Minutemen earns them a game against the Volunteers. At worst, that game would improve UMass' strength of schedule, which figures prominently in determining teams' RPI standings. That system is used to select which teams make the NCAA tournament field. An upset win over the Vols would give UMass another win toward its quest to get into the tournament, as well as some national exposure.

A loss to Southern Illinois, however, means playing American P.R., which is considered a Division 2 school. Even if the Minutemen win that game, it wouldn't count in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee. Couple that with how the game would hurt UMass' schedule strength and it would pretty much be a disaster. The Minutemen would have to win their final game of the tournament Thursday to salvage anything from the trip.

On the plus side for UMass, Southern Illinois has struggled to a 3-4 record this year. Three of its starters score in double figures, but giving up points has been a concern. Freshman guard Kent Williams has led the offense with 14.6 points, followed by Chris Thunell, who has averaged 11.9 points and a team high 8.1 rebounds.

"They shoot the ball really well," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "They use a lot of motion and back screens."

A pair of ex-Minutemen have visited their former team already, as brothers Edgar and Giddell Padilla, who are both natives of Puerto Rico and were both part of the Minutemen's 1996 Final Four run, have stopped by to greet the current UMass team.

Ronell Blizzard will make his second consecutive start for the Minutemen. Despite Blizzard's nervousness, Flint was pleased with his showing as a starter.

"I thought he did all right for his first time starting," Flint said. "Blizz gets a little nervous. Sometimes he's his own worst enemy because of that."

"I was a little nervous at first, but the rest of the guys out there showed confidence in me," Blizzard said. "I've always felt like I could help this team. All I've ever asked for is the opportunity."

Blizzard's goal will be to stay out of foul trouble.

"Bruiser told me not to use my hands as much," Blizzard said.

With three games in a row, Flint said he has to prepare differently. "You don't want to kill guys," he said. "You try to do what you need to do in a shorter period of time. Getting here a day early helped us a little bit. We got to rest and do a little bit. It helps that we've been able to play eight or nine guys. We have competent subs so we don't lose a lot when we go to the bench."

NOTES: After today's game UMass will have played in eight time zones in the 1990s. In addition to the four mainland time zones, UMass has played in Alaska, Hawaii and France. Puerto Rico is in the Atlantic time zone, one hour ahead of the East Coast.


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