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La Salle at Massachusetts
From The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/9/2002

Tonight at 7, Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.

TV/radio: WHAT-AM (1340).

Records: La Salle 9-13 overall, 2-7 Atlantic Ten; Massachusetts, 9-11, 3-6.

Coaches: La Salle, Billy Hahn (first season); Massachusetts, Steve Lappas (first season).

Key players: For La Salle, Rasual Butler, F, 6-7, Sr. (20.8 ppg., 9.3 rpg.); Reggie Okosa, F, 6-9, Jr. (12.1 ppg., 8.0 rpg.); Julian Blanks, G, 6-2, Sr. (8.1 ppg., 4.7 assists).

For Massachusetts, Shannon Crooks, G, 6-2, Sr. (14.8 ppg., 3.9 assists); Kitwana Rhymer, C, 6-10, Sr. (8.9 ppg., 6.0 rpg.).

La Salle update: The Explorers are coming off an 80-71 loss to St. Joseph's on Wednesday. Four Explorers scored in double figures in that game, but as a team, La Salle shot just 38 percent from the field against an aggressive St. Joe's defense.

Massachusetts preview: After a 4-0 start, the Minutemen have struggled in their first season under Lappas, the former Villanova coach. Massachusetts has lost three straight and 11 of its last 16. Home court has been of little advantage this season to the Minutemen, who are just 5-5 at the Mullins Center.

Brand returns on sore ankle
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/9/2002

AMHERST - Junior big man Micah Brand will return to a University of Massachusetts men's basketball team that has missed him.

The sprained ankle that knocked him completely out of the Minutemen's losses to Rhode Island and Duquesne and most of the game against Dayton, has healed enough to allow Brand to return to the lineup Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

"It feels much better than it did last week," Brand said. "It's still a little sore, moving and turning certain ways. But I can run and jump."

Coach Steve Lappas said Brand won't start, and he will monitor the center's effectiveness.

"I'm going to guess 15 minutes, but we won't know till he gets out there. We worked him out a little bit (Thursday), but his conditioning isn't good," Lappas said. "I don't want this to become a long-term thing. Hopefully he'll shake it once and for all so he can be close to 100 percent next week. We'll see how far he can go."

Brand said missing the last two games was upsetting.

"I'm not saying that those aren't two good teams, but those are the sort of games you feel like you should win. When you can't play and help out it's more frustrating," Brand said. "I don't really mind the couple days off of practice, that's not too bad, but when it comes to the games it's frustrating. You want to be out there."

Brand will have extra tape and an air cast on the ankle to help avoid re-injuring it.

The Explorers come in struggling at 9-13, (2-7 Atlantic 10), but for the Minutemen that might not be a good thing. UMass has lost three straight, the two most recent against Rhode Island and Duquesne, who also had been struggling.

One player who isn't struggling is LaSalle senior Rasual Butler, who is among the nation's leaders with 20.7 points per game. He is the Explorers' top rebounder as well with 9.3 boards per game. At 6-foot-7, he plays power forward, but his skills are more of a small forward as he can score inside as well as knock down 3-pointers.

He'll present a matchup problem for the Minutemen, who'll use sophomore Raheim Lamb against him to start the game, but could use a variety of defensive options to oppose him.

"It's a hard matchup," Lappas said. "I'm hoping Raheim Lamb can guard him. I don't know if he can or he can't. Butler is really a big three. We'll try different guys on him. We'll try Micah on him a little bit."

Butler scored 30 points against the Minutemen last year as only Ronell Blizzard was effective in stopping him. Lappas said he'll use the 6-foot-8 senior at times against Butler, but was concerned about Blizzard as an offensive liability.

"I worry about having Blizz and Kit in there at the same time," Lappas said. "But it's a good defensive assignment to put Blizz on him."

Lappas would use Brand on Butler if he was healthy.

"St. Joe's put (6-foot-10) Bill Phillips on him and I think Phillips' size bothered him," Lappas. "If Micah was 100 percent, I'd probably go that way. But since he's not I don't think that's a good way for Micah to come back, to chase Butler around for long periods."

Butler is joined in the front court by junior forward Reggie Okosa, who has had a solid first season after transferring from Virginia Commonwealth. He's averaging 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Freshman Mike Cleaves has emerged as the team's top guard at 10.5 points per game.

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