With "Bruiser" Flint's job now officially secure until 2002 (the impending extension was noted here in an earlier column) and the Minutemen basketball team feeling more confident after its near upset over #1 UConn, fans in Amherst are wondering if the team will improve on its so far dismal 1-4 record.
Up next for UMass are the next two stages in their Big East trilogy. Saturday they face Boston College at a neutral site and on December 15th they travel to Villanova where the Wildcats hold a 2-0 home record.
From there, 12 of their final 21 regular season games are played at home.
Mike Babul's comments after the recent UConn loss emphasized the home crowd's importance.
"If we can fill the house like tonight then it gets the team pumped up," he said.
Huskies coach Jim Calhoun was impressed by UMass' effort stating that the team he coached against on December 9th was much better than the one he scouted on tape.
"From my point of view they played hard as hell," he said. "This was a very hard-earned victory. UMass was tough, physical and they were hungry."
Encouraging words, for sure, but now Ketner, Clarke, Mack and Company have to back it up and maintain their enthusiasm.
Self-proclaimed team leader guard Charlton Clarke said, "We just came up short at the end (against the Huskies). If we play like this every night we'll see UConn in the (NCAA) tournament."
After his UConn Huskies nail biting win against the UMass Minutemen, head coach Jim Calhoun entertained the press room almost as much as Dick Vitale. (After the game Dickie V. walked into the press room, noticed the absence of food, and in his loud voice said to Assistant A.D. Bill Strickland, "WHERE'S THE FOOD, BABY? DON'T YOU KNOW THESE GUYS ARE WORKING UNTIL 1 A.M.?")
Calhoun, although more subdued, nevertheless produced some very poignant remarks.
On his team's play after the UMass victory: "The word terrific doesn't come to mind but the word lousy doesn't either."
On his team's first road win of the season: "This is the first time we played in a hostile environment. We gutted it out."
Against UMass it was the Huskies second string that paved the road to victory lane. Albert Mouring's 13 point (6-8 from the floor), 3 rebound effort and Souleymane Wane's 6 point (3-4 from the floor), 5 rebound performance were critical to keeping UConn alive.
On his team's backups: "The bottom line is our bench is very good and our starters have been inconsistent."
That was true against UMass. But while the big stars - Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin - didn't produce pretty numbers they hit the big shots down the stretch.
Right now even though the Huskies are undefeated Calhoun said he expects "someone to knock us off." Still, he gave any would be rival something to think about with this parting shot across their collective bows: "If our starters start playing better we could be pretty good."
|Dave Bartley covers UMass Minutemen basketball for College Hoops Insider (CHI). He is a UMass graduate and lives in Holyoke, MA. You can contact Dave through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives of Dave's columns are available at http://www.collegeinsider.com/hoops/1bartley.htm.|