Bruiser itching to start conference play
By Robin Deutsch with Bruiser Flint, MassLive, 1/4/2000

The UMass Minutemen ended the non-conference portion of the 1999-2000 season with a 6-6 record. Outside of a Feb. 1 home game against the University of Texas, the rest of the season is comprised of Atlantic 10 Conference opponents. The A-10 slate begins Thursday when UMass plays host to St. Bonaventure (7 p.m.). On Saturday UMass welcomes Fordham (2 p.m.) to the Mullins. In his first column of the new year, head coach Bruiser Flint talked about the week ahead.

First of all, on behalf of our coaching staff, the entire UMass basketball team, and myself, I'd like to wish everyone a happy New Year.

This week, in my opinion, we play the two most improved teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference -- St. Bonaventure and Fordham. They are improved for decidedly different reasons. St. Bonaventure is a veteran team with four starters returning. They understand the battles. Fordham has a new, and excellent coach in Bob Hill, who has coached in the NBA with the New York Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs.

More about those two games a bit later.

We begin Atlantic 10 Conference play following a difficult loss to Providence College, 62-61. To say the ball didn't bounce our way is a huge understatement. Guys played their hearts out. To lose a game in a scramble in the last second, as we did, especially when we had possession of the ball, is hard. We played hard, we scrambled, dove for balls, took charges, did all the things needed to pull out a close game. Despite not shooting well, we stayed in the game the entire second half and I was proud of our effort.

If there's a silver lining, we found out how we need to play to win games. When we get maximum effort from everyone on the roster, we'll be okay. If not, we are going to struggle. Against Providence, I was particularly pleased with the performances of Winston Smith and Anthony Oates. Winston played great. He made a game-tying shot off a play that was not designed for him. Winston's ability to play with such confidence is a result of hard work and always being prepared. Anthony did a terrific job in playing the most minutes of his UMass career. He set great screens, rebounded the ball well and kept us in the game with his defense.

We are going to take the good things that came from the Friars game and build on them. Four of our next five games are at home, and we historically play very well in January.

St. Bonaventure and Fordham are good home games for us. As I said, the Bonnies are the most improved team in the league and Fordham is coming off an upset win over Providence.

The Bonnies enter our game with an 8-2 record, tops in the East Division of the A-10. Their only losses have come to North Carolina Charlotte and Kent. SBU has great guards -- both of whom are seniors. Tim Winn, who always is a handful for us, is averaging 15.3 ppg and his backcourt mate David Capers is fourth on the team in scoring with a 10.6 ppg average. In total, the Bonnies have four players scoring in double figures -- senior center Caswell Cyrus (12.4 ppg) and junior forward/center Peter Van Paassen (12.0). Van Paassen, at 6-foot-11, is the team's leading rebounder (7.5 rpg) and Cyrus is one of the best shot blockers in the league. He has 15 blocked shots this season. This group has been starting for three years and I consider SBU a dangerous team. Newcomer Patricio Prato and sophomores Vidal Massiah and Eric Siegrist are all playing quality minutes for the Bonnies.

Fordham presents a slightly different situation for us. The Rams are 7-5 with a game at St. Joseph's before coming to Amherst. Fordham recently defeated Providence, 71-67, and have won some impressive games this season. The Rams have also lost to Hofstra and Manhattan, so I am not sure what Fordham team we will be facing. One thing is for certain, Fordham has very good guards in Bevon Robin (16.3 ppg) and 5-foot-9 Jason Harris, who is leading the team in scoring (19.3 ppg). Because of those two guards, Fordham has the ability to spread the floor, penetrate to the basket or kick it out to a shooter on the perimeter. The Rams have the A-10's most improved player in 6-foot-8 junior forward Alejandro Olivares.

Ultimately, we have to continue to play hard and start knocking down some shots. I feel good about being back at home after our lengthy road trip to Florida, Puerto Rico and Providence. I look forward to seeing everyone this week. I am sure the crowd support will help our efforts a great deal.

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