AYEMON, Puerto Rico - To the NCAA tournament selection committee, which the University the Massachusetts still hopes to impress down the road, today's 1:30 p.m. game with American University of Puerto Rico won't even count because of the school's Division 2 status.
But to UMass coach Bruiser Flint, the game is about his team learning the level it needs to play at consistently.
"It doesn't matter if it counts or not," Flint said. "If we don't realize how we have to play to win games we're not going to win a lot of games. That's the bottom line."
The Pirates are 0-6 heading into today's game after a 102-58 drubbing at the hands of No. 11 Tennessee. Their schedule has consisted of three games in the San Juan Shoot-out during Thanksgiving, two in the American Family Tournament, and one Tuesday.
American Unviersity features three starters named Rodriguez who are not closely related. Jesus, a forward, transferred to American from UMass' Atlantic 10 rival Virginia Tech. He is the team's tallest player at 6-feet-8. Joseph, a 6-foot guard, hails from Miami and is the only Pirate from the mainland. Finally, Alex's only claim to fame is sharing a name with the star shortstop from the Seattle Mariners.
Forward Ivan Rios and guard Jonathan Colon round out the starting line-up. Statistics were not available for the team, which has seven freshmen.
* * *
The Puerto Rico Holiday Classic is employing the experimental rules that have been used in a variety of early-season tournaments. Only three players are allowed on each side of the free-throw line and teams are given the option of shooting free throws or taking the ball out on all fouls after their opponent has gone over the limit.
In other games where these rules have been in place, most coaches opt for the free-throws, but SIU coach Bruce Webber opted for the ball late in the first half and got burned, when Brandon Mells traveled on the ensuing possession.
Given the option again in the second half, Webber decided to shoot the free throws but Chris Thunell missed both shots.
* * *
With 1,159 career points, senior guard Monty Mack could advance three more rungs up the UMass career scoring ladder while in Puerto Rico. Up next is Rafer Giles at number 21, with 1,163 points. John Murphy is 20th with 1,184, and coincidentally, Mack could pass former Puerto Rican national team member Carmelo Travieso, who stands at 1,186.