Wanted: Shooting stars
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/16/1999

AMHERST Last year, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team slogged through a losing season with a tedious offense that averaged 64.3 points per game.

This year, a remodeled, up-tempo offense averaged 100 points in two preseason games, then scored 85 in its opener at Iona. Since then, the Minutemen have averaged 62.5 per game.

What's happening here?

"We can't get the ball to drop," said coach Bruiser Flint, whose 4-3 team meets Florida State (3-4) in Saturday's Orange Bowl Classic at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"A lot of it is mental," Flint said. "It's not like we're shooting a lot of 3-pointers. Maybe we're rushing our shots a little bit."

But for whatever reason, UMass is missing makeable shots, averaging 40.2 percent shooting this season and placing pressure back onto a defense that's allowed only 59.4 points per game in its last five.

"I don't know if we can play much better defensively," Flint said. "We're much better than last year, and last year, I thought our defense was pretty good.

"But the last two games (against Villanova and Detroit), we've shot poorly," he said. "And when that happens, you become tentative, because you're afraid to miss."

This was not supposed to be a problem this season. UMass pledged itself to up-tempo offense and more full-court pressure on defense.

Last week, Flint said he thought UMass was still playing at a much quicker pace than last season. But pushing the ball upcourt, he said, did not guarantee a steady stream of uncontested layups, especially against quality defensive teams the Minutemen have been facing.

Most teams have also shown UMass some form of zone, which poses a variety of problems. And it's hard to run without rebounding. UMass has been beaten on the boards in five of its last six games.

The Minutemen would still like to quicken the pace and create scoring chances through their defense, and they may have a chance to do that against Florida State, which has committed 116 turnovers. But a whopping 29 came at Auburn, where the Seminoles took only 37 shots to the Tigers' 67 and still lost only 55-54.

That may have been Florida State's best game. The Seminoles have lost by 35 to Florida and 23 to Seton Hall, and the shooting (41.6 percent) has been spotty.

The most consistent threat has been 6-foot-9 senior Ron Hale, who is averaging 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Hale struggled against Seton Hall Saturday, shooting 3 for 15 in a 79-56 loss.

Hale hurt his left knee in a 69-58 loss to Temple Nov. 30, but seems healthy. Florida State also features 5-11 junior guard Delvon Arrington, who bounced back from a 14-turnover game against Auburn to contribute 14 points with eight assists against Seton Hall.

"They also have a 400-pound guy," Flint said, referring to Nigel Dixon, a seldom-used 6-10 freshman who is actually listed at 350. He's only played 18 minutes all season, however.

"I don't know if my whole team weighs 400 pounds," Flint said. "I don't know who on our team can guard him."

Florida State has beaten Norfolk State, Jacksonville and Northwestern.

UMass, meanwhile, is looking to use this game against an Atlantic Coast Conference team as momentum for the three-game Puerto Rico Holiday Classic that begins Tuesday.

Right now, Flint is looking for scoring, preferably from sources other than mainstays Monty Mack (17.7 ppg.) and Chris Kirkland (16.0).

"We don't need a guy to knock down 20 points," he said. "But we need guys to step up and give us 10 or 12."

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