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The (Olean) Times Herald - Lappas focus
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Bona looks to rediscover shooting rhythm
By Brian Moritz, The Times Herald, 1/26/2002

ST. BONAVENTURE — It’s how J.R. Bremer can hit three-pointers from seemingly anywhere on the court.

It’s how Marques Green effortlessly drops shots through the bucket, and how Mike Gansey, Vidal Massiah and Patricio Prato are threats to hit from anywhere.

“It” is shooting in rhythm, and it’s how the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has become the highest-scoring squad in the Atlantic 10 this season and is on pace to be the best three-point shooting team in NCAA history.

“Getting good shots in rhythm means running down the court and getting wide-open, catch-and-shoot shots instead of off-balance shots,” said Bremer, whose 25 points-per-game average is the third best in the nation. “Most of the time when we get shots in rhythm, 60 percent of the shots are going to go in because you’re feeling good, you’ve got your body squared to the basket.”

The Bonnies (12-6, 4-3 league) will look to regain their rhythm tonight when they host Massachusetts in a key Atlantic 10 match-up at a sold-out Reilly Center (7 o’clock, WHDL, WPIG,

Bona hasn’t had much trouble scoring points this year. The Bonnies are averaging 85 points per game — fifth-best in the nation — and are hitting 11.2 three-pointers per game. The NCAA record for three-pointers per game is 11.1, set by Troy State in 1996.

“It’s like the Temple game,” said Gansey, referring to the game in which Bona hit a school-record 19 three-pointers and torched the Owls for 93 points.

“It helps your confidence when you’re shooting like that.”

Lately, though, the Bonnies defense has struggled to find any rhythm. In the last three full halves — the second half of an overtime win over Duquesne and the Fordham game — Bona’s opponent has shot better than 60 percent.

Fordham, which entered Wednesday’s game shooting just 28 percent from three-point land, shot a blistering 63 percent from beyond the arc.

“It seemed like Fordham was a situation where guys who aren’t normally good shooters made shots,” said Bona coach Jan van Breda Kolff. “Some of it was a result of our defense. We’ve worked real hard the last two days at getting better defensively.”

Thanks to their full-court, pressure trapping defense, the Bonnies have forced teams to commit an average of 18 turnover a game. However, opponents are shooting 51 percent against Bona, 39 percent on threes.

“WE’RE JUST trying to make the shots harder for the opposing team instead of giving them easy shots,” Bremer said. “We just haven’t been rotating. Our defense is predicated on good rotations. We’ve been working on that a lot try to get it down.”

Defense is particularly important for the Bonnies, because the rhythm shots they get on offense are created by their defense.

“Our rhythm shots come off our defense,” van Breda Kolff said. “A lot of the rhythm shots that we get come out of playing with a bounce that we feel like we have to play with on defense.”

Bremer added, “I think us getting going on defense helps us get shots like that. A lot of people don’t understand that offense comes from defense. On defense, you’re always in a stance, working your muscles a lot, and offense comes in more of a rhythm. Our crowd gets us more hyped on defense to get steals, and our offense just flows.”

The Bonnies will have the home-court advantage tonight. Bona is averaging 92 points a game at the RC, has won 10 in a row at home dating back to last year and has beaten UMass four straight times at home.

“I think we feel better at home because we’ve got people behind us chanting, cheering, getting us ready for the game,” Bremer said. “Our crowd, they’re so excited and so loud that it gives us confidence before we even start.”

The Bonnies are facing a UMass (8-8, 2-3) team that’s won two in a row and is coming off an impressive 13-point win over George Washington on Wednesday.

Despite season-long struggles (related story, page S-1), the Minutemen have started to get solid play from forwards Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand.

“We have to rebound the ball,” van Breda Kolff said. “We have to defend their inside players and play their perimeter players and not get in a situation where we get beat by the three-point shot.”

Gansey added, “Hopefully we just outrun them and our press will work against their big guys.”

BONA NOTES: Not only is this game sold out, but next month’s home games against Xavier (Feb. 9) and St. Joseph’s (Feb. 28) are also sold out. There are a limited number of tickets left for games against Richmond (Feb. 6) and Fordham (Feb. 16) … Robert Cheeks, who’s coming off his first-career double-double, injured his tailbone in the second half against Fordham but is expected to play.

Lappas isn’t worried about UMass’ woes
By Brian Moritz, The Times Herald, 1/26/2002

For Steve Lappas, this is nothing new. The first-year Massachusetts men’s basketball coach has seen his team struggle with consistency all season. The Minutemen, picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 Eastern Division, are currently fifth.

But the former Villanova coach insists that this season hasn’t been hard to handle, mostly because he’s dealt with this kind of thing in the past.

“It has not been frustrating because I’ve been here before,” Lappas said earlier this week. “The thing is, I’ve seen this act before. If this was my first job, my first time around, I might be frustrated.”

This is Lappas’ third college head coaching job — and each time, his teams have struggled in his first year at the helm.

In Lappas’ initial year at Manhattan, his first season as a college coach, he finished with a 7-21 record.

Within four years, the Jaspers won 20 games, were the regular-season champions in the MAAC and made it to the third round of the NIT.

At Villanova, Lappas replaced Rollie Massimino in 1992. In his first season, the Wildcats finished 8-19 — the fewest wins for that program in almost 20 years. But over the next seven seasons, the Wildcats won 20 games six times, claimed the NIT in 1994 and made the NCAA four times in five years.

Now, at UMass, Lappas has the Minutemen at 8-8 (2-3 in the Atlantic 10) heading into tonight’s game at St. Bonaventure.

But it’s been an up-and-down year for UMass. The Minutemen started the year 4-0, and wins over North Carolina State and Oregon earned Massachusetts votes in the national polls.

But UMass promptly lost eight of its next 10. The Minutemen couldn’t find the offense that disappeared when 20-points-per-game scorer Monty Mack graduated last May. For the season, UMass is shooting just 42 percent from the field, 33 percent on three-pointers — a killer stat in Lappas’ system, which emphasizes the three.

Kitwana Rhymer, last year’s A-10 Defensive Player of the Year and co-Most Improved Player, has struggled this season, and is averaging just under eight points and six rebounds.

“You’ve got to go through growing pains with the new system,” Lappas said. “Guys are starting to do the things we want them to do.”

Indeed, UMass has won its last two games, earning solid home wins over Temple and George Washington.

But tonight, the Minutemen must play a tough Bona team in the Reilly Center, a building in which they’ve lost four in a row. They must also deal with Bona’s helter-skelter style, which has impressed Lappas.

“They take you out of what you want to do,” Lappas said. “They make you want to go down and score baskets ... that plays into their hands. They give you a little fools gold. They play loosey goosey, they either want to turn you over or they say go ahead and get a basket then they go right back the other way.

“I’ve seen a lot of good perimeter teams, but they can be unbelievable. Thirteen threes in a half (against Temple last week), I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Tough crowd at St. Bonaventure
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/26/2002

University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Steve Lappas has never been to the self-proclaimed "Enterprising City with the Hometown Touch."

But all he needed was a cursory glance at a map to see that going to Olean, N.Y., to play St. Bonaventure wasn't an easy road trip.

"Anywhere you have to fly to and then take a two-hour bus ride can't be easy to get to," Lappas said. "They tell me it's a tough place to play. The fans are tough and the team is good. That's a tough combination."

If recent history is any indication, the bus ride from Buffalo to Olean could be the easiest part of his weekend, as the Minutemen travel to western New York to face the Bonnies tonight at 7.

St. Bonaventure has won six of its last eight meetings with UMass, including the last four at the Reilly Center.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bonnies. With almost no size and with St. Bonaventure's No. 1 and No. 3 scorers from last year gone, the Atlantic 10 coaches and media picked new coach Jan van Breda Kolff's squad to finish fifth in the league's East Division.

Instead, the Bonnies are 12-6, with a win over Connecticut under their belt.

They've faltered a bit outside of the Reilly Center in league play, though, with losses to George Washington, Saint Joseph's and Fordham. They are 4-3 in the A-10.

Van Breda Kolff has relied heavily on a high-powered offense led by senior guard J.R. Bremer, and has shown how unnecessary size can be with great perimeter shooters - and he has them.

The Bonnies don't start anyone taller than 6-foot-6. They run, they press and they have five players who have attempted 65 or more 3-pointers.

Their 85.1 points per game leads the A-10 as two players, Bremer, the league's scoring leader at 25.3 points per game and Marques Green (16.1) both average more points per game than UMass leader Shannon Crooks (14.6).

St. Bonaventure's .384 3-point percentage also leads the league. They've attempted nearly twice as many threes (524-283) as UMass and 60 more than anyone else in the league.

Lappas, who loves good shooters, said he's not jealous of his opponent's personnel.

"We're a 3-point-shooting juggernaut now. We hit eight tonight," he joked after UMass' win over George Washington Wednesday. Then he marveled at the Bonnies' bombs-away offense.

"I've not seen too many teams shoot the ball like that, ever, and I've been around for a while," Lappas said. "I've seen a lot of great teams and great perimeters. But it's unbelievable what I saw in the tape of them when they played against Temple.

"They hit 13 threes in a half. So we're going to have our work cut out for us defensively," Lappas continued. "It's going to be a real challenge. Our guys need to feel challenged. You always feel when you play Bonaventure that they could explode at any second."

The Bonnies are dead last in the league in points allowed at 79.8, but that number is a bit deceiving because the speed of their play tends to lead to high scores. They average 10.22 steals per game and force 6.39 more turnovers per game than they commit.

That stat was particularly worrisome to Lappas, with rookies Anthony Anderson, Kyle Wilson and Raheim Lamb all in positions to handle the ball.

"Our perimeter guys are going to be put to the test," he said. "We have young guys back there in Kyle, Anthony and Raheim," Lappas said, while pointing to the pace of the game as important. "The tempo will be critical to how that game goes. We cannot make it crazy, up and down, throw the ball all over the place."

Against the small and quick Bonnies, Lappas wasn't sure exactly what combinations he'd use to match up.

"If our three guards are handling the ball real well, playing big might be something that helps us," he said.

If the Minutemen do play big, Micah Brand has to be effective against smaller opponents on the perimeter.

"I've had to do that a couple of times, but I may have to do that a little bit more because a lot of players on their team are outside players," he said.

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