Coverage from:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
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UMass hopes to keep trophy
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/16/2000

Start an argument about the University of Massachusetts basketball team's worst defeat in recent years and you'll get no shortage of nominees.

The only thing keeping last year's 83-59 stomping by Boston College from the top of the list was the fact that the game was played in Puerto Rico and wasn't televised.

If anyone had actually seen the game, it may have been remembered as rock bottom because of the score and rivalry.

The Minutemen had beaten the Eagles in four straight Commonwealth Classics, and Boston College was gunning for them, hoping for a meeting in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.

UMass struggled early and BC smelled blood, shooting 62 percent from the floor in the first half and cruising to the easy win.

When the teams meet at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Mullins Center, Boston College will be making its first trip to Amherst since Feb. 2, 1977, when the Minutemen won 85-69 at the Curry Hicks Cage. BC will try to capture the Commonwealth Classic Trophy for the first time since the series began in 1995.

The Minutemen will attempt to regain Massachusetts bragging rights and maintain the trophy.

"They smacked us down there in Puerto Rico," Flint said. "Xavier Singletary had a few things to say after the game, so it's going to be a tough game."

The Eagles are undefeated while playing a schedule of a low-to-mid-major. They hammered Holy Cross 77-48, a team that beat UMass earlier this year.

Flint said the Eagles are better, and at 6-0 much more confident than they've been in recent years.

"BC is going to be a lot quicker than these guys, a lot quicker and a lot more athletic," Flint said. "BC comes in with a lot of confidence because they're 6-0 and playing well. They're a better team (than they were). Everybody talks about their schedule, but they're better. I think Troy Bell is one of the best guards in the country. Singletary's been playing well. Uka Agbai got better last year as the season went on."

Bell's numbers back up Flint's claim. Though only a sophomore, he is averaging 21.5 points per game, while Singletary is next on the team with 11.5 points and five rebounds per game.

Flint's former assistant coach John Robic, who is now the head coach at Youngstown State, came to Boston last Saturday; BC soundly beat his Penguins 93-65.

"Robic gave me a little scouting report and they absolutely smacked Robic last week," Flint said.

UMass senior guard Jonathan DePina said the Minutemen need to play smarter than they did in Puerto Rico.

"They have basically the same team they had and we have basically the same team. We have to go play hard and play smart," DePina said. "We didn't play smart in Puerto Rico. If we play smart and play defense, we'll be all right."

DePina actually committed to BC out of high school, but after a highly publicized incident when he and Elton Tyler were denied by the school's admissions department, he opted for UMass.

The incident caused Michael Bradley (now at Villanova) and Adam Allenspach (Clemson) to withdraw verbal commitments as well, and eventually led to then-coach Jim O'Brien leaving BC.

As a senior, DePina said the chance to have the last word in the UMass-BC rivalry just adds more incentive to play well.

"We want to win every game we play, but that adds a little something to it," he said.

* * *

NOTES: In the midst of a shooting slump, Monty Mack might be glad to see BC. Of the teams that he's faced four or more times in his career his scoring average against the Eagles is his second highest at 21.8 points per game.

Mack needs just nine points to move into the No. 3 spot on the UMass career scoring list, which is currently occupied by Lorenzo Sutton (1,731 points).

In his three-plus years, Mack has averaged 17.1 points per game. Sunday's opponent, Boston College, has been one of his favorite opponents. These are teams against which he has averaged 20 or more points in at least four games:

Duquesne - 5 games. 22.0

Boston College - 4 games, 21.8

George Washington - 5 games, 21.2

Xavier - 4 games, 20.3

UMass has another test
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/17/2000

AMHERST Look at the bright side, University of Massachusetts men's basketball fans. Temple has a six-game losing streak and the Minutemen don't.

UMass isn't the only team with problems, it just sometimes seems that way. But even with the cloud of a six-game tailspin somewhat lifted by Thursday's 68-52 win at Boston University, UMass (2-6) knows it has plenty of work ahead, starting with today's 4 o'clock Commonwealth Classic matchup against Boston College (6-0) at the Mullins Center.

For starters, there's that little bit of business about last year's 83-59 BC rout over UMass in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic. Having avenged a 74-67 UMass win in the Commonwealth Classic three weeks earlier, the Eagles weren't shy about sharing their feelings that the worm had turned.

"They really smacked us last year," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "Then guys like (BC guard) Xavier Singletary had some things to say afterward. But they're also a better team now, no question."

They're also an untested team. The UMass schedule through Dec. 13 ranked as the nation's ninth-toughest, according to the respected Sagarin ratings.

Boston College? Try 313th. UMass has already played at Marquette, Oregon and Ohio State, while BC won't even leave the state until Jan. 7 at Miami.

But BC is averaging 82.7 points and shooting 48.7 percent. So for several reasons, this is an important game for UMass, which won't play again for 12 days.

It's the first time BC visits the Mullins Center, and the Eagles' first trip to Amherst since 1977. They'll be trying to tarnish UMass' 5-0 record in Commonwealth Classic games.

Today is also the last time South Boston High graduates and UMass seniors Jonathan DePina (who was originally accepted by BC, then rejected by the admissions department) and Monty Mack will face the Eagles.

"Playing BC adds a little something, but we can't worry about what they say," DePina said. "We have a lot of the same players from last year, and so do they. We didn't play smart ball or good defense last year in Puerto Rico, and we've got to do that."

UMass forward Jackie Rogers, who was on crutches against BU with a foot infection, is questionable for today.

Boston College's starters are 6-1 sophomore Troy Bell (21.5 ppg.), 6-6 senior Singletary (11.5 ppg.), 6-8 sophomore Uka Agbai (10.7 ppg.), 6-5 junior Kenny Walls (10.3 ppg.) and 6-5 junior Kenny Harley (9.7 ppg., 9.5 rpg.).

"I think Bell is one of the best guards in the country, and Singletary is also playing well," Flint said. "Walls is playing some big-time ball, and Agbai has improved."

UMass must get some better accuracy from its guards. Monty Mack is 2 for 17 in his last two games and is shooting 28 percent this season. Shannon Crooks is 4 for 16 in his last two games.

"Our baseline play has been great," Flint said. "Winston Smith has been maybe our most consistent player since the Holy Cross game, Micah Brand and Kit Rhymer have come along, and Eric Williams played well against BU. But our guards have to do better.

"Some nights we get Kit and Micah, some nights we get Monty and Shannon," Flint said. "We need to get everybody at once. The guys doing well are doing the known the things they know how to do while some guys are dwelling on the unknown, trying to do things they can't."

With Ronell Blizzard's 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots lending a spark, UMass beat Boston University largely on athleticism. That won't work against Boston College, a far more athletic team than BU.

"But beating BU was a confidence builder," said Mack, who says his own confidence is unshaken by the shooting slump. "It feels good. Now we just have to build on it."

BC, UMass know rivalry by memory
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/17/2000

Long memories come attached to today's installment in the Boston College-UMass men's basketball rivalry.

When last they met, the Eagles beat the Minutemen every which way en route to an 83-59 win in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic last Dec. 23.

Nineteen days earlier at Conte Forum, the Minutemen beat the Eagles in the so-called Commonwealth Classic, 74-67, leaving the game's trophy in UMass' hands for the fourth straight year.

By the time the site changed to Puerto Rico, the Eagles were wondering about that trophy.

``We'll get it next year - they can keep it,'' BC guard Xavier Singletary said after dropping 26 points on the Minutemen in Puerto Rico.

BC point guard Troy Bell thought back 19 days for a moment, and then added, ``They beat us, they whupped us. We'll beat 'em next year.''

``Next year'' is now here, as the teams get reacquainted today (4 p.m.) at the Mullins Center. And you had better believe that UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose struggling 2-6 team just edged back on track with Thursday's win over Boston University, is reaching back into the past with relish.

``They smashed us last year, Singletary had a couple of things to say afterwards, and now we'll see what we're going to do about it,'' said Flint. ``BC has a lot of confidence right now going with that 6-0 record. (Youngstown State coach John) Robic gave me the scouting report, because they just smashed him in the last game.''

Bell, in particular, is on a tear for BC, running what amounts to a four-guard offense that has been far too quick for the likes of Holy Cross, Youngstown and St. Peter's.

Bell has improved on virtually every front this season. He's averaging 21.5 points per game on an improbable .526 (40-for-76) shooting percentage. He's also shooting .423 from 3-point range, 91 percent from the foul line, and has dramatically cut back on his turnovers. He has 25 assists and only 10 turnovers over six games.

``He gets it in the flow of the game,'' Robic, the former UMass assistant coach who took over the Youngstown State program last season, said of Bell after the loss to BC last week. ``As point guard, he takes it as it comes. He doesn't force it. I'll bet he's the kind of kid that if he gets 12 (points) and they win, then that's fine with him, even though he has the talent to get 30.''

UMass' own top gun isn't faring as well. Monty Mack is in one of the worst shooting slumps of his college career. He has shot 2-for-17 over the last two games, 8-for-36 over his last three and 14-for-55 (.254) over the last four.

``He's just not knocking them in,'' said Flint. ``He'll come around.''

UMass forward Jackie Rogers, who missed Thursday's win over BU with an infected right foot, is listed as doubtful for today's game. Ronnell Blizzard, who flourished with nine points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks as Rogers' replacement against BU, will likely get that time again today. The Eagles are healthy.

Classic case of redemption
By Michael Vega, The Boston Globe, 12/17/2000

The memory of Boston College's 74-67 loss to the University of Massachusetts Dec. 4, 1999, has not gone away. The stinging setback in the Commonwealth Classic was seared into the Eagles' minds when they watched the Minutemen receive the Governor's Cup from Paul Cellucci in a postgame ceremony at Conte Forum, BC's home court.

''This year, it being my senior year,'' said Eagles guard Kenny Harley, ''the last thing I want to do is sit through another one of those things. I want us to be the ones getting the trophy.''

While an 83-59 victory over UMass in a subsequent chance meeting in the consolation bracket of the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic last Dec. 23 gave BC a measure of vengeance, it still lacked a certain something: the hardware.

Today, when they make their first road trip of the season to face UMass at the Mullins Center in Amherst, the Eagles will attempt to return with their perfect record intact and the Governor's Cup in hand.

After taking last week off for final exams, the Eagles enter today's game at 6-0 coming off a 93-65 romp Dec. 9 over Youngstown State, coached by former UMass assistant John Robic.

''I know for a fact that if we would've played the same schedule UMass has, we wouldn't be 6-0 right now,'' said BC coach Al Skinner, a 1974 UMass graduate and 1982 UMass Hall of Fame inductee. ''Again, they have some good size and they have rebounding, and Monty Mack is a player who has to be dealt with. They're a much more battle-tested team than we are, so it's going to be a challenge for us.''

The struggling Minutemen (2-6), meanwhile, will be playing only their third home game of the season. They halted a six-game losing streak with a 68-52 triumph at Boston University Thursday.

''We needed one - we needed one badly,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose team is returning home after going 1-3 in a grueling stretch of four games in seven days. ''You just want guys to feel good about themselves because we've played a tough schedule and we've played in some tough games, but we haven't been able to get any confidence and that's one thing that's been hurting us.''

As for BC? ''They're playing really good right now,'' Flint said. ''They're quicker than they were last year. [Troy] Bell can really shoot the ball and they've been drilling people. So they're going to be coming in with a lot of confidence. We're going to have to handle their pressure and score and put the ball inside against them.''

While BC's starting five is undersized, four starters have double-figure scoring averages, with Bell leading the way at 21.5 points per game. Last year, as a freshman, Bell recalled how he was clawed across the chest by UMass guard Shannon Crooks.

''He was grabbing me and holding me,'' Bell said. ''You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. I think this year we'll be able to hold our own.''

If not, then the Eagles won't be holding the trophy.

''If we go in with the wrong mentality, or a certain blase attitude, then we're going to be in for a rude awakening,'' Skinner said. ''I can't speak to their psyche [at UMass], but we've been there. BC's been there. We all know that a wounded animal is the most dangerous animal in the jungle. When it gets backed into a corner, it will fight for its life and that's what we're expecting when we go to UMass.''

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