MHERST — Sooner or later, something is going to click and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team is going to put it all together.
The Minutemen just can't afford to continue to lose games in the manner in which they have — at the foul line.
UMass hasn't been making enough of its free throws while opponents have been going to the line at an alarming rate.
While head coach Bruiser Flint and his players have not been thrilled with some of the officiating in the first four games, they know the onus is on them to adjust to the non-aggressive style of play the referees are trying to enforce by order of the NCAA.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what else we can do besides keep our feet moving and our hands down," UMass center Kitwana Rhymer said yesterday before the team's practice at Mullins Center.
Since John Calipari came to Amherst in 1989, UMass teams have been strong and physical on defense, and that hasn't changed during the Flint era. But the rules have, all but hamstringing the UMass' big men.
"Last year guys came across the lane and you bumped them. Now you can't," Flint said. "We got a lot of fouls called that way."
Just four games into this season, the number of foul shots attempted and made compared to last year are staggering. The Minutemen averaged 13.8 points a game last year at the foul line. This year it's 17.
But opponents have more than doubled their production at the aptly-named charity stripe, from 14.2 points last year to 29.8 this season.
UMass is outshooting opponents from the floor (44 percent to 42), from behind the 3-point arc (35.7 to 23), have more assists, more steals and fewer turnovers.
The Minutemen are being beaten on the boards by 11 rebounds a game, and they are badly losing the battle at the foul line. Opponents have attempted 41 more free throws and have made 51 more.
With new rules, officials often call it tight for the first few weeks of the season, then loosen up. That was the case a few years ago when the NCAA required officials to blow the whistle on hand checks.
"I think we actually did better than in the first two games," Flint said. "You can't teach a kid not to fight over the screen."
That the team's three losses have come on the road, in the other team's gym with officials from its conference, certainly hasn't helped, but Flint isn't using that as an excuse.
In the 91-76 loss at Oregon Saturday, the Minutemen were hit for 34 fouls and the Ducks made 35 of 46 free throws. The Minutemen missed 15 free throws.
"When your on the road and they give you 37 foul shots and you make 22 . . . you've got to shoot better than that," Flint said.
Other aspects of UMass' game are coming around. Senior guard Monty Mack, who missed the first game due to suspension, struggled in his first two games mainly because he had not practiced due to an ankle injury. But Mack had 26 points against Ducks.
Micah Brand turned in a career-high 19-point game and hauled in nine rebounds as UMass was able to get the ball inside better than the previous three games.
Now the Minutemen have to stop fouling, especially away from the ball, and improve their performance at the free throw stripe.