UMass starts to sleepwalk
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 2/6/1999

When the UMass Minutemen pulled their sleepy selves out of bed yesterday morning, there was a good chance they were still pretty sore after Thursday night's 73-62 loss to Rhode Island.

``There were at least eight balls that hit us off the face or the chest, and (URI) put those right in,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. ``That was pretty much the game, right there.''

The season, too. The Minutemen, at 9-12, are about as close to an NCAA tournament bid as any other sub-.500 team this time of year, though for a team with UMass' history, this will hurt more.

The Minutemen have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last seven seasons. A failure to do so now will be viewed as a serious fall.

That leaves the NIT - and even that consolation tournament requires a minimum of a .500 record.

This, of course, is still within reach, but only if Flint's players believe it to be true.

And as much as the coach may hate to admit it, some of his players may be in the process of checking out for the year.

If nothing else, there's evidence that his rantings and pleadings have fallen on deaf ears this season.

``It's just been one of those years,'' said Flint. ``The guys are struggling. We haven't had a game all year where at least two or three of our main guys haven't struggled. And now the guys are getting down on themselves again.

``The one person who played well for us (against URI) was Chris Kirkland, and that was because he went out there on the floor and played with confidence,'' Flint said. ``Chris Kirkland has a lot of confidence right now.''

That's not the case across the board.

Consider Monty Mack's somewhat dazed reaction after being chased across the floor by URI's diamond-and-one coverage.

``Sometimes I was out there in a dazed frame of mind,'' said Mack, one of the few players who has performed consistently well for the Minutemen this season.

Mack simply shook his head.

Little else, at the moment, can be said.

``I just think we all have to play hard as a team to get through this,'' he said.

Unfortunately, however, the aforementioned main players only seem to be sinking further.

Lari Ketner was a major non-factor down the stretch against URI.

Charlton Clarke has now shot 2-for-21 from the floor over his last three games. And Flint was so incensed by the performance, he later demanded that uniforms be turned in by any player who thought the season was already over.

None, of course, responded.

``What more can I say? That's what I told them in the locker room,'' said Flint. ``What more can I say?''

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