Coverage from:
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Daily News
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - Mack focus
The Boston Herald
The Boston Herald - notebook
The Springfield Union-News
The Springfield Union-News - notebook


Butler's bombs can't save La Salle
The Explorer sank six three-pointers on the way to 30 points, but UMass was too tough at the end.
By Joe Juliano, The Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 1/26/2001

In its first five games of the Atlantic Ten Conference season, La Salle didn't play a single game decided by fewer than 13 points.

So when the Explorers went down to the wire against Massachusetts with a legitimate chance of defeating the improved Minutemen last night, they found themselves unable to do the little things.

The Explorers failed to beat the Minutemen to a loose ball at midcourt. They couldn't quite catch up to a rebound off a missed shot by their opponent. Monty Mack converted both opportunities into baskets in the final 1 minute, 40 seconds to give UMass a 62-58 victory over La Salle at Tom Gola Arena.

Photo
Rasual Butler gets sandwiched between Kit Rhymer and Ronell Blizzard.
Losing for the sixth time in their last seven games, the Explorers (7-10 overall, 1-5 A-10) wasted a 30-point performance by Rasual Butler. It was Butler who sparked a La Salle comeback, sinking three consecutive three-point baskets in a 12-0 run that turned an 11-point deficit into a 58-57 lead with 1:58 to play.

But La Salle did not score again. Its last possession, which came with the Minutemen up by 61-58, was not smoothly executed. Coach Speedy Morris had set up a play for his hot shooter, but Butler put up a pair of wayward three-point attempts - the second from almost 30 feet - against a clawing double-team.

"It's one we had to win and we didn't do it, and it's disappointing," Morris said. "We've got to do the little things at the end. At the end, we had a mix-up on the play we called. We didn't run a play."

Butler, the conference's leading scorer, finished 10 of 19 from the field, and 6 of 13 from three-point range, but he didn't get much help. Victor Thomas, who entered the game with a 19.9-point average, managed only 3-of-12 shooting and scored 13 points.

The 6-foot-7 Thomas played most of the game on offense against Shannon Crooks, who was five inches shorter but kept Thomas off balance with his quickness and speed.

"We were horrible," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We didn't do the things we talked about doing all week. We know what Butler and Thomas can do. Shannon did a great job, but that was it on defense. Rasual almost beat us by himself. He hit some tough shots."

The Minutemen (7-10, 5-1) suffered two dry spells in the second half, going 6:03 without a point early and 6:41 without a field goal late. But in between, they had the scoring of Mack, who accounted for 17 of his team's last 20 points in the final 12:30 and finished with 23.

Bothered by foul trouble in the first half, Mack hit back-to-back three-point baskets to touch off a 16-2 second-half run. He ended the spurt with 6:41 remaining, when he sank three free throws to give UMass its biggest lead of the game, 57-46.

But Butler, who sat out four minutes during the UMass run after picking up his third foul, had one final flurry left. After a free throw by Thomas and a short jumper by Julian Blanks, Butler hit a three-pointer from the top of the key, another from the right wing, then banked home a third.

The final one gave La Salle a one-point lead, plus hope to the small crowd of 2,352. But that's when the Minutemen dug in.

After a time-out, UMass struggled setting up its play and lost the ball at midcourt. But Crooks ran it down and got the ball to Mack, who hit a 15-footer from the wing with 1:40 left to give his team a 59-58 lead.

James Jordan was fouled on a rebound on La Salle's next possession but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Jordan went into the game as a 33 percent free-throw shooter but had been 5 of 6 from the line to that point.

Mack's jumper went off the rim, and the rebound headed for the corner to the right of the basket. Blanks tried to chase it down and call time-out, but his foot was on the line. Given a second chance, the Minutemen found Mack, and he banked home a 10-footer with 38.9 seconds to play. Jonathan DePina wrapped up the UMass scoring with a free throw.

"We did let it get away," Butler said. "Like Coach said, we didn't get the loose ball or the rebound at the end. We had some turnovers. Those things add up. UMass is a good team, and they capitalized on the mistakes we made. At the end, Coach designed a great play for me, but we didn't execute it correctly."

Before last night, the closest A-10 game La Salle had played was a 13-point win over Duquesne. Its previous four losses had been by an average of 17.5 points.

But some things stay the same. Only Butler, Thomas and Blanks scored from the field. The La Salle bench was outscored by 14-0. The Explorers made just 34.7 percent of their field-goal attempts.

"We could've done a better job of running our offense," Morris said. "We stood around too much. We need more than two guys starting. We missed some layups. A couple of stick-backs would be a big help."


Butler gets too little help
By Dana Pennett O'Neil, The Philadelphia Daily News Sports Writer, 1/26/2001

It might be simplifying things a little too much, but there seems to be a pattern to the La Salle men's basketball team.

When Rasual Butler is hot, La Salle is in the hunt.

When he's not, the Explorers are in trouble.

The pattern reared its ugly head a game ago, when Butler's six points were part and parcel of the Explorers' 62-43 loss at Dayton.

It showed up again last night.

In a pivotal game against UMass, La Salle found its fate resting with Butler's streaks. In the first half, he hit for 19 points and the Explorers stayed within three at intermission. In the second half, he had to take a 3-minute, 31-second break because of foul trouble, and the Explorers watched the game slowly creep away from them. Butler came back, so did La Salle.

Too bad for La Salle, Butler's last streak was a cold one. His last two three-point attempts clanked off the front of the rim, allowing UMass to escape with a 62-58 win.

"Who else is going to score besides [Victor] Thomas and him?" coach Speedy Morris said. "If we can get the occasional offensive stickback, that's a big help, but we don't have the luxury of having a bunch of scorers. Our last win, we had four guys in double figures. That's what we need."

Facing a stretch of winnable games - two each against Rhode Island, Fordham and St. Bonaventure and one against Duquesne - this loss could stick in La Salle's craw for a while. It might be the difference between a season that is above or below .500. For now, it means the Explorers drop their sixth in their last seven games to fall to 7-10 overall and 1-5 in the Atlantic 10.

Certainly the loss is not for lack of trying on Butler's part. His 30 points accounted for more than half of La Salle's offense, but that's not the most telling statistic. Take away his 10-for-19 shooting and La Salle's already awful 33 percent shooting dips to 23 percent, as the rest of the team went 7-for-30.

UMass' Shannon Crooks, a guy who gives up 5 inches to Thomas, did in Thomas, Butler's usual scoring partner. Though he managed 13 points, Thomas went 3-for-12 from the floor and went without a field goal while Butler was on the bench.

And the Explorers' big men were held to an 0-for.

"Rasual scored a lot of points in the first half, so we knew they'd concentrate on him," Morris said. "Again, if it wasn't for him, we don't get back into this game. We're not in this game. We need more guys to score for us."

That they couldn't find anyone made all the difference. Just when things started to look promising for the Explorers - they took their first lead at 41-39 early in the second half - trouble arrived. Butler was whistled for his third foul and headed to the bench. For the next 3:31, he cooled his jets, and so did the Explorers as UMass went on an 11-3 tear.

The Minutemen (7-10, 5-1) extended that lead to 11 before La Salle made its last surge. His team trailing, 57-49, Butler came off a screen at the top of the key to sink a three. On the Explorers' next possession, he dribbled around the top of the perimeter before finding an inch of space. Another long ball, good. One more UMass miss and Butler came back again, this time banking in the three-pointer, giving La Salle a 58-57 lead with 1:55 to play.

"We did nothing on Rasual," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "He almost beat us by himself."

He might have, were it not for Monty Mack. After a foul-plagued first half limited him to only 11 minutes, Mack turned the second half into a mano-a-mano battle with Butler. He scored 17 of UMass' 27 second-half points, including 17 of their final 19, of which the last four were the biggest.

With his team trailing, he picked up a loose ball and knocked down a pull-up jumper to make it 59-58 UMass. After James Jordan missed the front end of a one-and-one on the other end for La Salle, Mack came back with a baseline drive to put UMass up by three.

To no one's surprise, La Salle's last chance was designed for Butler.

"We knew it would be him or Thomas," said Mack, whose 23 points moved him ahead of Lou Roe and into second place on UMass' all-time scoring chart. "We knew their coach would want it in his hand because he was hot. So we wanted to sag off him, try to make it so he couldn't get the shot off."

That's what happened, but not necessarily because of the Minutemen's defense. Instead, Morris' plan fell apart somewhere between the clipboard and the floor, and Butler was forced to launch a bad three-pointer over and through Ronell Blizzard. Though the rebound came right back to him, his next attempt came from another ZIP code and it too clanged off the front of the rim.

"I probably would have gotten a better look," Butler said. "We just got a little confused. We didn't get the looks we wanted. Coach designed an excellent play for us, but we didn't execute it."


Mack rescues UMass, 62-58
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA - When the ball slipped out of Ronell Blizzard's hands with 1:42 left and the University of Massachusetts trailing La Salle, 58-57, the home crowd gasped excitedly as both teams went for the ball. While Blizzard recovered his own near miscue, several Explorers, who thought their team was going to come up with the loose ball, had raced down court in hopes of a layup.

They were left counting unhatched chickens as Blizzard alertly fed Monty Mack, who swished a 12-footer, leaving the crowd groaning. The Explorers never scored again as the Minutemen escaped with a 62-58 victory over their Atlantic 10 Conference rivals Thursday at Tom Gola Arena.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint was happy with the win, but not with much else.

"We were horrible tonight," he said. "We just didn't do the things we talked about all week."

UMass (7-10, 5-1) will remain in Philadelphia and play Temple at noon Saturday at the Liacouras Center.

James Jordan went to the foul line with a chance to tie the game with 1:18 remaining, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one and Kitwana Rhymer grabbed the rebound. Mack has added an effective driving bank shot to his offensive arsenal, and he used it Thursday, including once with 38.9 seconds left to put the Minutemen up, 61-58.

The Minutemen struggled to guard Rasual Butler all game, as Shannon Crooks and Winston Smith couldn't contain him. But late in the game, Flint turned to Blizzard and he was effective in the final minute, when Butler tried to tie it.

"I thought Blizz did a better job because he's long enough to guard him," Flint said. "He had a hand in his face and did a good job staying on his feet and not fouling him."

Unable to drive past Blizzard, Butler was forced to try two long 3-pointers, both misses, in the final 35 seconds.

"I was excited about playing against Butler and (Victor) Thomas," Blizzard said. "I didn't do so well in the first half when I got in foul trouble. In the second half I ... did a little better job.

"On the last play, I knew he was going to try to draw the foul," Blizzard continued. "So I just tried to keep my hands off him and make it tough for him to shoot over me."

La Salle (7-10, 1-5) almost got the ball back again when Smith's inbounds pass was nearly picked off, but Jonathan DePina came up with it and was fouled. He made the front end of the one-and-one to put UMass up by two possessions with 2.9 seconds left, effectively ending the game.

While the Minutemen had relied on their frontcourt for their recent success, the backcourt more than pulled its weight Thursday. Crooks had 12 points to go along with four assists and one turnover. Mack finished with 23 points and reached two milestones along the way. He passed the 1,900-point plateau on his 14th point and became the No. 2 all-time scorer at UMass with 1,909 points, passing Lou Roe (1,905). Jim McCoy is the school's all-time leader with 2,374.

Butler led the Explorers with 30 points, the most by a Minuteman opponent this year, while Thomas added 13. Butler kept La Salle in the game before intermission, scoring 19 or his team's 23 points in the first half. That might have been enough to put his team ahead at halftime had it not been for Eric Williams.

The Minuteman reserve center made the most of his nine first-half minutes. With his fellow big men in foul trouble, he scored six of UMass' last eight points before the buzzer to give his team a 35-32 advantage. He finished with nine points and six rebounds.

La Salle bolted out of the second-half gate and took the lead at 44-41 with 12:53 left in the game. But a Rhymer free throw followed by a Mack 3-pointer jump-started a 16-2 run that put UMass ahead, 57-46, while La Salle went 8:18 without a field goal.

But Butler's three 3-pointers in a 12-0 run put the Explorers ahead, 58-57, setting up Mack's heroics.


Gola Arena contrast for Mack
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA - From a statistical standpoint, Monty Mack has had 18 better games as a Minuteman at the University of Massachusetts.

But numbers aside, on Thursday against La Salle Mack put up arguably the best game in an impressive career.

He scored 23 points, a good night, but hardly eye-popping by his standards. But 17 of those came in the second half when he outscored the rest of his team, 17-10, as the Minutemen squeaked out a 62-58 win.

This masterpiece came in the same building where Mack played arguably the worst game of his career just under two years ago. In UMass' 63-60 loss to the Explorers at Gola Arena, he shot just 1-for-13 with six points during the 1998-99 season.

"I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean here last time. I just wanted to take my time and be patient and take what they gave me."

It also was the perfect setting for Mack to become the No. 2 scorer in UMass history, passing another big-game player, Lou Roe.

On Thursday, Mack hit two first-half 3-pointers, but he was forced to watch nine minutes of the half from the bench with foul trouble. From there, he watched La Salle's Rasual Butler dominate, scoring 19 first-half points.

But while 27:30 of the game was the Rasual Butler Hour, in the remaining 12:30 Mack stole the show.

"I just felt like I needed to make some things happen out there," Mack said. "Either get some shots off or create some things to get my teammates some shots."

La Salle opened the second half with a 12-3 run to take its first lead of the game at 44-41. It served as Mack's wake-up call.

Photo
Micah Brand tries to find some daylight past the defense.
After Kitwana Rhymer missed the second of two free throws, Micah Brand grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it to Mack. With many NBA scouts watching, he buried a three from just inside that league's bonus distance to put UMass back ahead, 45-44.

Rhymer swatted a Victor Thomas shot at the other end of the floor, launching a fast break, where Mack again connected from long range, pumping his fist with satisfaction.

"I just wanted to go out there, play hard and lead by example," Mack continued.

"He played well down the stretch," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said.

It's not insignificant that Mack played as well as he did on the night he became the No. 2 scorer in UMass history. In doing that, he passed Roe, the former Minuteman power forward who finished his career with 1,905 points.

No. 2 is the highest rung of the ladder Mack is likely to reach. He sits 365 points shy of Jim McCoy's 2,374, with not nearly enough games left to catch him.

Passing Roe, however, is a significant achievement. In Roe's career, the Atlantic City native regularly carried his teammates in close games.

Mack, who grew up a UMass fan in South Boston, rooted for those Roe-led teams. Mack's entire home career has been played with Roe's retired No. 15 looking on from the Mullins Center's wall.

Mack and Roe are vastly different players, but Thursday, the senior shooting guard displayed heart reminiscent of Roe. If Mack had passed Roe in either a loss or an easier win with a so-so night, it wouldn't have seemed right.

But Thursday, Mack earned his honor. He matched Roe's total on the third of three free throws after being fouled behind the line with 6:41 left. It put UMass ahead, 57-46, its biggest lead at the time.

Butler tried to recapture his spotlight. He scored nine of his game-high 30 in a 12-0 La Salle run that put his team ahead, 58-57, with 1:59 to go.

But Mack drained a short jumper on a broken play to regain the UMass lead and banked in a runner with 38.9 seconds left to clinch it.

"He was huge in the second half," Butler said of Mack. "He really stepped up. He's a big-game player."

Even Jonathan DePina, who has played three high school seasons and four college ones with Mack, said his teammate's performance was special.

"We needed him to step up and he stepped up," DePina said.

On paper, a game against a sub .500 La Salle team doesn't seem like much, but had the Minutemen lost, it would have reversed a lot of positives they've created in their 5-1 January. The win meant more to Mack than the records.

"I'm glad to pass (Roe) but I'm not too worried about records," Mack said. "I have more games to play."


Minutemen persevere vs. La Salle
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA - UMass coach Bruiser Flint felt about as collected as Jekyll and Hyde.

Flint's hopeful side thanked the heavens for last night's 62-58 victory over La Salle, which improved the Minutemen (7-10) to 5-1 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. But his snarly coaching side wanted to kick the nearest trash can.

His nerves barely withstood one of the best coming-back-at-ya shooting displays of the season.

La Salle forward Rasual Butler - mainly off a series of jumpers that got deeper as the game got older - lit up Tom Gola Arena with 30 points on almost absurd 10-for-19 shooting, including six NBA-sized 3-pointers.

And Monty Mack, after playing through the first 30 minutes of the game in a state that Flint described as ``not showing up,'' essentially won the game by scoring 17 of his 23 points in the last 12:31. Mack also shot his way past Lou Roe into second place on the UMass all-time scoring list with 1,909 career points.

Mack was not alone in ticking off the coach, though. The Minutemen made too many turnovers, lost too many rebounds and allowed too many open shots to satisfy Flint.

``We were horrible tonight,'' he said with a robust shake of his head. ``We just didn't do the things that we talked about all week.''

Now let's swing up to the other pole, where UMass fans are marveling at the Minutemen's ability to not only retake the lead in the last two minutes, but also to seal off yet another game they clearly would have lost a month ago.

``We made the plays we weren't making at the beginning of the year,'' said Flint, whose emotions were probably jostled, most of all, by the exchange between these two teams in the second half.

The Minutemen took a 35-32 halftime lead, stepped into the second half and lost it almost immediately, courtesy of a 10-2 La Salle run for the Explorers' first lead of the game, 44-41, with 12:52 left.

Mack, like a quiet Kitwana Rhymer, had been on the bench with three fouls during this stretch.

But with Mack back in the lineup, and with backup Dwayne Jones guarding him instead of starting point guard Julian Blanks, the UMass guard swung into his game, scoring 13 points of a 16-2 run that gave the Minutemen a 57-46 lead with 6:44 left.

Butler, who had been sitting out his own foul trouble during most of the UMass run, came out firing as the prime source for La Salle's subsequent 12-0 run, which gave the Explorers a 58-57 lead with 1:56 left.

The burst featured three straight 3-pointers by Butler - a shot from the top of the circle, a deeper shot from the left side and then a bomb from the right side, all over the bewildered Winston Smith.

Enter Ronnell Blizzard, the UMass forward who had the only success against Butler last night.

Mack took the lead back with a runner - courtesy of Blizzard's pass off a loose ball - for a 61-58 lead with 38 seconds left.

La Salle coach Speedy Morris then called a higher-percentage play for Butler with 34 seconds left. It never materialized.

Butler instead ended up with the ball, with Blizzard in his face, roughly 25 feet away from the basket. He forced a bad miss, scooped the ball back up when it came rolling out of the pack and launched a second shot just as bad.

Jonathan DePina sealed the game with a free throw with two seconds left.


Mack attacks UMass records
UMass Notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA - As one of the players who was proud to say he grew up wanting to play basketball for UMass, Monty Mack is as well-versed in the game of Lou Roe as anyone.

Mack, a senior guard, just never thought much about the prospect of having his name linked historically to Roe.

And Mack still doesn't think about it much, even after passing Roe to move into second place on the all-time UMass scoring list last night. Mack moved up to 1,909 career points thanks to his 23-point performance in a 62-58 win over La Salle. Roe scored 1,905. Jim McCoy, the all-time UMass leader, is light years ahead with 2,374 points.

``I'm glad about passing him, but as far as I'm concerned, it's just records,'' Mack said. ``I wasn't worried about it. It's just another day.''

McCoy - to whom then-coach John Calipari gave what he termed a ``blue light,'' as opposed to a green light - holds what is generally considered to be an unapproachable mark.

But Mack does have a chance of becoming only the second 2,000-point scorer in UMass history.

Mack also entered the game as the second highest active scorer in college basketball, behind only Centenary's Ronnie McCollum, who has 2,226 career points.

Mack also passed Michael Williams to move into second place on UMass' all-time steals list, with 146 to 145 for Williams.

Not in the plan

La Salle coach Speedy Morris was particularly dismayed after designing a play for Rasual Butler with 34 seconds left that went in another direction. Butler ended up forcing two bad 3-point attempts.

``I set up a play, and he didn't run the play,'' Morris said. ``But if not for his shooting, then we don't get back into this game.''

Off night

After several dominating performances, the UMass frontcourt took a back seat last night. Center Kitwana Rhymer had five points and six rebounds, and Micah Brand had eight points on 3-of-9 shooting - mostly on missed layups.

``Micah reminded me a bit of Lari Ketner,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said, referring to the former UMass center who was known for missing easy shots. ``I started having flashbacks.'' . . .

Rhymer, for the first time in his 2 seasons at UMass, was named the Atlantic 10's player of the week for his performance in victories over Dayton and Duquesne. He averaged 17 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two games.


Minutemen ride clutch Mack
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA This was a game of two terrific shooters, each wanting the ball at the most crucial moments.

La Salle's Rasual Butler scored 30 points in one of the finest individual performances by a University of Massachusetts men's basketball opponent in some time. But in the end, it was Monty Mack who had the last say in the 62-58 UMass victory at Tom Gola Arena, a win that kept the Minutemen in the thick of the Atlantic 10 Conference race.

"I felt I just needed to come out and make some things happen," said Mack, who scored 23 points, including 17 of his team's 27 in the second half. "In the first half, I got a couple of early fouls, kept coming in and out of the game and couldn't get my rhythm."

UMass (7-10, 5-1 Atlantic 10) visits Temple (11-9, 5-1) tomorrow. Shannon Crooks (12 points, five rebounds, four assists) said the Minutemen might have been looking ahead, but Mack's late shooting kept them from paying dearly.

"They were stepping out on me more, so I tried to face them and get in the lane," said Mack, who began shooting off the dribble as opposed to settling for jumpers. His 8-for-14 shooting made this his most accurate game this season.

What the numbers don't show is the pressure Mack faced when he hit a difficult jump shot off the run, giving UMass a 59-58 lead with 1:33 left.

He made an equally hard bank shot, also off the run, with 40 seconds left. That made it 61-58, and the baskets came after Butler had drained three straight 3-point shots banking the last one to turn a 57-46 UMass lead into a 58-57 La Salle advantage with 1:58 left.

"La Salle has big guards, and they pose a lot of matchups problems," said Crooks, a 6-foot-2 point guard who covered the 6-8 Butler at the start, then switched to 6-7 Victor Thomas, who scored 13 points on 3-for-12 shooting. "They can jump over you in the lane. But we can't go in thinking about how hard it is to cover them."

Mack scored 13 points in a 16-2 surge that gave the Minutemen a 57-46 lead. La Salle (7-10, 1-5) went 8:16 without a field goal.

"Argually, UMass might be the best half-court defense in the league," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. "But we need more than two guys (Butler and Thomas) to score for us."

Butler, a guard whose size presents major matchups problems, was alternately guarded by Crooks, Winston Smith and Ronell Blizzard. At 6-8, Blizzard was able to neutralize Butler's height advantage, and with UMass leading 61-58, Butler missed two long 3-pointers with Blizzard on him.

"Monty was huge in the second half," Butler said. "He showed he was a big-game player, and you know you're in for a tough night against him. But this was a very winnable game for us, one that we let get away."

Appropriate on a big-game night, Mack passed another clutch performer, Lou Roe, for second place on the all-time UMass scoring list. Mack has 1,909 points to Roe's 1,905, with only Jim McCoy (2,374) ahead of him.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint accepted the win, but he wasn't happy with the performance. Even Mack, he said, didn't play well until the final 12 minutes.

"We were awful, but we won," Flint said. "We knew what they could do, but we didn't do the (defensive) things we talked about. The only defensive job I thought we did well was Shannon on Thomas and Blizzard did better on Butler in the second half."

Butler had 19 points in the first half, and finished with 10-for-19 shooting.

Blizzard, whose three assists were a career high, said he adjusted on Butler in the second half.


Minutemen ride clutch Mack
UMass notebook
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 1/26/2001

PHILADELPHIA Mauricio Branwell is developing nicely as a future men's college basketball player.

The 6-foot-8, 195-pound senior at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., has signed with the University of Massachusetts. He is currently not yet eligible to play as a freshman in 2001-02, but Notre Dame coaches are optimistic because they say Branwell's academic scores have been steadily rising, and he still has the time and testing opportunities to make it.

Branwell is UMass' only signed frontcourt player from the high school and prep ranks. Two guards, Eddie Basden of Greenbelt, Md., and Jeremiah King of Paterson, N.J., are also signed.

Another forward, Raheim Lamb of Boston English High, is sitting out as a UMass freshman this year, but he is practicing and will become eligible next season. And point guard Anthony Anderson of Lynn who could fill the team's most pressing positional need is attending freshman classes at UMass this year, and expects to become eligible as a sophomore.

Branwell is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game for Notre Dame Prep (14-4), which plays Redemption Academy of Philadelphia tonight in Fitchburg. A post player who can be used at forward or center, he plays in a lineup that often features himself, three guards and 6-7, 210-pound postgraduate Harding Nana of Cameroon, who has drawn interest from UMass, Vanderbilt, Marquette and South Carolina.

UMass appears at its full limit of 13 scholarships for 2001-02, so adding Nana seems unlikely right now. But that could change.

There are currently 11 active scholarship players, plus Lamb. Three players Monty Mack, Jonathan DePina and Winston Smith will leave this spring.

Adding Anderson (who, unlike Lamb, is not on scholarship), Branwell, Basden, and King brings next year's number back up to the maximum of 13. But one spot is being held for Kitwana Rhymer, who will not become eligible for 2001-02 unless he graduates on time this spring.

If he doesn't, his spot will open for someone else. Spots would also open up if any current players transfer.

RATINGS:

UMass went into last night 96th in the power ratings computed by mathematician Jeff Sagarin. La Salle was 139th, and Temple, which UMass plays tomorrow, is 33rd.

The Minutemen are just behind Marquette (90) and Holy Cross (93), which have beaten them, and Fordham (94), which plays UMass Feb. 3. The Minutemen have a better rating than teams such as Miami (101), UNLV (103), West Virginia (104), George Washington (113), DePaul (115) and Rutgers (116.) John Calipari's Memphis team (9-8) is 77th.

ET CETERA:

La Salle freshman guard Rasheed Quadri was Lamb's teammate at Boston English . . . The Gola Arena public address announcer introduced UMass coach James "Bruiser" Flint, a Philadelphia native, as "Jim Flint" . . . La Salle guard Rasual Butler's 19 first-half points were in contrast to his season-low six-point game in Sunday's 62-43 loss at Dayton. He was guarded by his cousin, Tony Stanley, in that game.


Massachusetts Minutemen 62
La Salle Explorers 58
at La Salle

MASSACHUSETTS (62)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Smith           25   0-1   0-0   0-1  1  2    0
Rhymer          29   1-3   3-4   0-6  1  3    5
Brand           36   3-9   2-3   2-5  0  3    8
Mack            28  8-14   3-3   0-1  0  3   23
Crooks          39  3-11   4-5   3-5  4  1   12
Depina          13   1-4   1-2   0-2  1  0    3
Rogers           3   1-1   0-0   1-1  0  2    2
Blizzard        15   0-1   0-0   0-0  3  4    0
Williams        12   3-4   3-6   3-6  0  1    9
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 20-48 16-23  9-27 10 19   62
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.417, FT-.696. 3-Point Goals:
6-16, .375 (Mack 4-9, Crooks 2-4, Depina 0-2,
Blizzard 0-1). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 3
(Rhymer, Brand, Crooks). Turnovers: 11 (Brand 2,
Mack 2, Rhymer 2, Blizzard, Crooks, Depina,
Rogers, Williams). Steals: 7 (Crooks 2, Mack 2,
Blizzard, Brand, Rhymer).

LA SALLE (58)
       fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Thomas          40  3-12   7-8   0-4  0  1   13
Jordan          36   0-3   5-7   6-9  0  1    5
Bragg           25   0-4   1-2   1-4  1  2    1
Blanks          40   4-7   0-0   2-2  4  3    9
Butler          36 10-19   4-4   1-8  1  4   30
Jones            4   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Wilson          19   0-3   0-0   1-5  2  2    0
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 17-49 17-21 11-32  8 14   58
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.347, FT-.810. 3-Point Goals:
7-17, .412 (Thomas 0-1, Blanks 1-3, Butler 6-13).
Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 2 (Butler 2).
Turnovers: 12 (Blanks 3, Butler 3, Bragg 2,
Thomas 2, Wilson). Steals: 5 (Blanks 5).
__________________________________
Massachusetts      35   27  -   62
La Salle           32   26  -   58
__________________________________
Technical fouls: None.  A: 2,352. Officials: John
Cahill, Jack Sweeney, Ed Corbett.

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