Kirkland second to none
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/8/1999

When last seen, Chris Kirkland had activated his invisible switch again, burning Villanova for 18 of his 22 points in the second half of Monday's 51-50 UMass win.

It amazes most, including the UMass coaching staff, that the senior forward can move so abruptly from sheer silence to dominating a college basketball game.

During Saturday's win over Boston College, that meant igniting for 12 of his 16 points in the second half.

Factor in a 23-point performance that included 13 second-half points against Boston University, and Kirkland has averaged 14.3 points in the second half over his last three games.

It's undoubtedly better than starting hot and finishing packed in ice. That said, UMass coach Bruiser Flint is still searching for the key that will transform Kirkland into a game-long force.

``He has to be active, or it doesn't work,'' said Flint yesterday. ``In the second half (against Villanova) he just went in and got everything off the glass. I keep telling him that this is something he should be able to do all the time.''

To wit, Kirkland grabbed five of his nine rebounds on the offensive glass in the face of the huge Villanova front line.

All five rebounds were snatched in the second half, when Kirkland's repertoire included a pair of alley-oops from Shannon Crooks, the flying, lane-splitting put-back of a Monty Mack miss, and all seven points that led to Crooks' 25-foot game-winner.

And when Villanova's Gary Buchanan stepped inside the arc to take a jumper with three seconds left despite the fact his team needed a 3-pointer, Kirkland and Winston Smith were the two defenders applying pressure.

``In my mind I always knew that I could play like this, but once I've got on the floor in some games, it's not something that always came through,'' said Kirkland. ``I tell myself to be more aggressive, get more offensive rebounds, things like that.'' Self-generated aggression appears to be the main challenge.

Kirkland was the runner-up last season to Fordham's Alejandro Olivares as the Atlantic 10's most improved player - a finish that surprised the many who believed Kirkland deserved the honor.

But by the time Kirkland returned for his senior year, there was a need for a fresh round of pep talks.

``Every day I'm trying to get better as a person - as a player - and if I can do that, then what I do on the floor will come along,'' said Kirkland. ``But it's like Monty (Mack) has said. People have to step up and help out with the offense. He can't do it alone.''

Right now, there's little doubt that Kirkland should be Mack's main source of help.

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