Series officially over
The Springfield Republican - 3/4
ne year after the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team ended its long drought against Connecticut, the series apparently is on the brink of ending.
The current contract between the schools is up after this year's game at Connecticut Dec. 8. UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said Wednesday that UConn doesn't appear to be interested in continuing the series.
'Tim (Kenney, UMass associate athletic director for advancement) talked to them the other day and it's looking that way to me,' McCutcheon said. 'I haven't gotten any official word on this, but it looks like that's the direction it's going.'
McCutcheon said UMass had hoped to continue the series.
'We want to have a home-and-home relationship with them like we do with Boston College. They weren't interested in doing that,' he said. 'I don't know if they'd be interested in continuing in a two-for-one situation or with a home-and-home and a neutral-site game.'
McCutcheon said he would be disappointed to see the series end. 'We think it's a good series with a lot of interest that's beneficial for both institutions,' he said.
UConn officials could not be reached for comment.
In a recent ESPN.com column on scheduling, UConn coach Jim Calhoun implied that the UMass series was likely to end and he said that new Minuteman coach Travis Ford's up-tempo playing style is the reason.
'Every game has to have a purpose,' Calhoun said. 'We'll always have five or six games to build confidence, but we're trying to get games that will help us. ... In those games I want to find somebody who might slow it down, throw a zone or matchup at us. We don't want to just have teams that will run with us.'
The two teams played regularly from 1920 to 1990 before the series was discontinued shortly after John Calipari was hired at UMass. There was national pressure for the two teams to meet in the early 1990s when the Minutemen and the Huskies were both nationally ranked.
The series resumed in the 1996-97 season after Calipari left UMass and has continued since. The Huskies won the first eight games against Minuteman teams coached by Bruiser Flint and Steve Lappas before UMass delivered the 61-59 upset last year.
Calhoun was quoted last year as saying he'd continue the series as long as Lappas was still coaching UMass.
Calhoun reportedly also is upset with UMass for not interviewing his associate head coach Tom Moore as a candidate to replace Lappas.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more UMass coverage including a frequently-updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.
|The "U-Game" Series|
|12/9/2004||UMass 61||UConn (#7) 59||Amherst MA|
|12/30/2003||UConn (#1) 91||UMass 67||Hartford CT|
|12/10/2002||UConn (#9) 59||UMass 48||Hartford CT|
|12/11/2001||UConn 69||UMass 59||Amherst MA|
|12/12/2000||UConn (#11) 82||UMass 67||Hartford CT|
|11/22/1999||UConn (#7) 79||UMass 65||Storrs CT|
|12/9/1998||UConn (#1) 59||UMass 54||Amherst MA|
|12/23/1997||UConn (#11) 72||UMass 55||Hartford CT|
|12/27/1996||UConn 64||UMass 61||Hartford CT|
aybe it's time to let this thing die.
More than likely after Thursday, the annual men's basketball game between the Universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut is likely over anyway. Maybe it's time to let it go.
Publicly, representatives of both schools are saying the series isn't definitely over, that a deal to continue it could be struck. But privately people on both sides of the border are admitting it's done. UConn coach Jim Calhoun has been dropping hints about ending the series all season.
UMass fans haven't forgiven the cranky Husky coach for not playing the Minutemen in the mid-1990s, so pulling out this time has only made it worse.
As much as UMass fans don't want to believe it, Calhoun is probably making the right move for his program.
Calhoun makes an easy target for opposing fans. He comes off as crusty and grouchy. His recruiting practices have drawn considerable ire from opposing programs and fans.
But that doesn't make him wrong to cancel the game. Is it cowardly? A least a little. Is it smart? Absolutely.
Calhoun's schedule mirrors that of many legitimate national title contenders. A few high-profile games (Indiana, Louisiana State, Maui Invitational) mixed with a collection of guarantee games. Nonconference schedule strength doesn't matter much when the Big East slate is so strong.
The Huskies have nothing to gain by playing UMass, but plenty to lose. Win the game and it looks like they did what they were supposed to do. Lose it and there's a dent in the armor. From a national perspective, it's OK for UConn to lose at Indiana. It's not OK to lose to the Minutemen anywhere yet.
Outside of New England, last year's game wasn't 'UMass pulls off an upset,' it was 'UConn gets upset' and Calhoun knows it.
Last year UMass might have caught lightning in a bottle, but the Minutemen look like they're on the rise. Next year the Huskies lose Josh Boone and probably Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams to the NBA draft, putting UConn in a bit of a rebuilding mode. Meanwhile, the return of most of the current roster as well as the addition of several talented players who are currently sitting out sets up the Minutemen for their best year in a long time. Calhoun knows that too.
Calhoun can't stop UMass from getting good again, but he can prevent his team from being damaged directly.
The fans lose out the most, but it's mostly Minuteman fans who will miss the game and rivalry. Most UConn fans won't miss the rivalry because they don't consider UMass an equal. They'd rather compare themselves to North Carolina, Duke and Michigan State and their recent track record has earned them that right. It's not just UMass. BC is notably absent from the Husky slate too.
This could be a good thing. Too many UMass officials and fans have been obsessed with trying to keep up with their better-funded, better-conferenced neighbor to the south. Keeping up with UConn was more important in some minds than legitimate long-term growth of the athletic program.
With no men's hoop game, the two schools don't have a high profile event any more. They haven't met in football since 1999, before UConn went to I-A. The Husky ice hockey program is an afterthought in Storrs. UConn doesn't play lacrosse and the Minutemen can't keep up in soccer or field hockey.
After Thursday the biggest games between the two schools will come on the softball field in front of maybe 200 fans if the weather is nice.
It's too bad, because good rivalries are special and not easily replicated. But unless the Minutemen return to their mid-1990s success levels, this rivalry's time has passed, perhaps for good.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.
TORRS, Conn. - Amidst talk that the series between Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts was definitely ending, UConn coach Jim Calhoun presented one scenario where it would absolutely continue.
If they win (tonight), the series will definitely continue, Calhoun said. ''I mean that honestly. I guarantee that. If they win we will not walk away.''
The teams play at 9 tonight in the Hartford Civic Center.
Otherwise Calhoun said he won't make any further decisions about the game until spring.
''There are plenty of good teams to play, '' Calhoun said. ''UMass is one of those teams. We haven't done our schedule yet for next year.''
Sources in both Amherst and Storrs have said the series is unlikely to continue.
Calhoun read UMass coach Travis Ford's quote reported earlier this week about losing the tape of last year's UMass 61-59 upset of the Huskies. He volunteered to give him a copy.
''The say they can't find the tape. I'll give the tape to them,'' Calhoun said. ''I can tell them they played triangle-and-two against us. It worked very well. We had a very lifeless type of performance.''
Calhoun has shown his players the tape.
''We keep showing them the kids running on the court and (Rashaun)Freeman standing on top of the scorer's table,'' Calhoun said. ''He should have jumped (up there). He was the dominant force last year.''
FRESHMAN GUARDS - Years from now, few people will remember what linked Chris Lowe and Craig Austrie. But tonight at the Hartford Civic Center, the two freshman point guards will meet.
Austrie, UConn's freshman point guard, was rooting for the Minutemen a year ago when UMass upset the then No. 7 Huskies. Austrie was supposed to be a Minuteman this season. Former UMass coach Steve Lappas loved the 6-foot-3 guard from Stamford who committed early last fall to play in Amherst.
But with Lappas' future uncertain, Austrie opted not to sign the binding national letter of intent. When Lappas was let go, Austrie re-opened his recruiting. When UConn came calling, he jumped at the chance to play for his home state university.
''It actually worked to my advantage,'' Austrie said. ''I'm glad to be here. God works in mysterious ways. Being here is great.''
Austrie said Ford tried to contact him, but he wasn't interest.
''He called, but I didn't talk to him,'' Austrie said. I wanted to play for Coach Lappas. He was a good guy. Once he got fired, I didn't want to'' go to UMass.
Calhoun said Lappas visited a UConn practice earlier this week.
Austrie's decision left Ford without a point guard. While Ford was still coaching at Eastern Kentucky, he had looked at Lowe who liked him but hoped to play at a higher level. When Ford landed in Amherst, Lowe signed on as his first recruit.
While Ford has started Maurice Maxwell in each of the Minutemen's first four game, Lowe has averaged 21.8 minutes per game. Ford continues to stress the need for Lowe to play more.
''We need him to stay out of foul trouble and lead the basketball team,'' Ford said. ''We need him to be a sophomore right now. That's a lot to ask. But we need him to grow up really quick.''
Any maturity Lowe has acquired would come in handy tonight as he tries to deal with the Huskies' pressure and fast-break offense.
''It's a real important game. We have to really get back and stop their transition,'' Lowe said. ''If we can control their transition game we'll be in good shape. That's a main part of their game, how they get a lot of their points.''
It wasn't long ago that Lowe was rooting the other way in this rivalry too. Ben Gordon, who graduated from Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High School, Lowe's alma mater, starred at UConn before going to the NBA.
He and Lowe are close and talk regularly.
''He just told me to play my game and do my best,'' Lowe said. ''He doesn't say 'My school is going to whoop your school,' or anything like that. He said he might come to the game.''
Like Lowe, Austrie was thrust into a prominent position early. The suspensions of starting point guard Marcus Williams (one semester) and would-be backup A.J. Price (the entire season) opened the door for Austrie to be starter.
He's been solid in the role for the No. 3 ranked Huskies who are 6-0. Austrie is tied with Josh Boone for the team lead in minutes played (29.3) and is averaging 7.7 points, 3.5 assists and just two turnovers per game.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARTFORD, Conn. - After his team beat the University of Massachusetts 78-60 Thursday, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun addressed issues about the past and future of the series between the two teams.
Calhoun said nothing had been determined about whether a new series would be established between the schools, but said he is not interested in going back to the Mullins Center where UConn lost 61-59 a year ago.
'We'll play them here. Why should we go to Amherst?' Calhoun asked. 'I don't do that for anybody. I do that for televised games' against top 25 opponents.
Calhoun said he doesn't consider UMass a rival.
'We just beat them by 18 points and we've won 16 of the last 17 games in the series,' he said. 'It's not a rivalry. Sixteen out of 17 is not a rivalry. Other schools would like to play us. We have other people in Connecticut and in New England.'
Calhoun admitted he stopped playing UMass in the early 1990s because of his distaste for former Minuteman coach John Calipari.
'I ended the series because of John Calipari. I said I wouldn't play them while John was there. We agreed to play it and unfortunately he left. Actually, that wasn't so unfortunate. He left, Ray (Allen) left and Marcus (Camby) left and the series has been a rout ever since then,' Calhoun said. 'Back in the Calipari era you can make a case that we should have played them. I had my own personal reasons. I'm sure John had his reasons too. Then it was a game that had to be played. John and I stepped forward and he left. I can't be blamed for him leaving.'
Calhoun said he would have continued to play if UMass hadn't let former coach Steve Lappas go.
'I would do that for an awful lot of coaches who are friends of mine in the business that want to get exposure for their programs,' Calhoun said. 'I have nothing against UMass. I think Travis (Ford) is going to do a great job.'
Calhoun left the door open to resuming the series if the Minutemen return to a high level.
'If Travis gets it going, and next year they could have a very good team, it could be a very interesting game and we'd look into it,' he said.
VIGGIANO vs. CONNECTICUT - Minuteman senior Jeff Viggiano continued his string of success against his home state's flagship university. He had 17 points in his final game against Connecticut, after scoring 22 in 2003 and 12 last year.
Viggiano had a highlight-film dunk for the good-sized contingent of fans from his hometown of Suffield who made the trip. After up-faking his defender, Viggiano drove the left baseline for a one-handed slam that brought UMass to within 49-41 early in the second half.
'If he could play against us every night, he'd be an All-American. He'd average about 20 points a game,' Calhoun said. 'Maybe it's personal. Maybe he just didn't like me. The players change but he doesn't. He always has great games against us.'
SERIES NUMBERS - With UConn not expected to renew the series, Thursday's game at least temporarily closes the long-time rivalry between the two schools. The Huskies left leading 69-39 all time. The series began in 1905 and beginning in 1917 the teams played almost every year until 1990.
FORD TECHNICAL - Protesting what he thought should have been a traveling call, Ford picked up his first technical foul in his tenure as the UMass coach with two minutes, 56 seconds left in the first half.
LAPPAS IN ATTENDANCE _Lappas was at the game as a guest of the Huskies coaching staff. UConn director of basketball operations Pat Sellers was formerly an assistant coach under Lappas at UMass.
UMASS vs. TOP 25 - The loss was the Minutemen's eighth straight against top-three opponents. Three of those defeats have come at the hands of the Huskies. UMass last defeated a top-three team on Jan. 4, 1996, when it beat No. 3 Memphis 64-61 at the Worcester Centrum.
The loss snapped UMass' two-game winning streak over ranked teams. No. 6 Boston College (Jan. 3) and No. 19 George Washington (Feb. 15) are the only two remaining ranked teams on UMass' schedule.
MILESTONES - Junior big man Rashaun Freeman's 19 points moved him within 39 points of becoming the 37th 1,000-point scorer at UMass. He now has 52 points in his career against the Huskies.
NEXT UP - The Minutemen host Boston University at 7 p.m. Monday. The Terriers, who lost their first five games of the season, are coming off back-to-back wins over Harvard and UNH (67-46 Thursday). BU is at Maine Saturday before heading to Amherst.
MISCELLANEOUS - The loss marked the third time in the last four seasons that the Minutemen are under .500 after five games.
UMass is 0-2 on national TV this season. Florida State (Fox Sports Net, Feb. 12) is the only remaining nationally televised game for the Minutemen.
For the first time this season, Brandon Thomas didn't score UMass' first basket. Freeman scored inside to put the Minutemen ahead 2-0 1:25 into the game. Thomas scored their second basket.
UConn senior guard Denham Brown was honored before the game for scoring his 1,000th career point Saturday.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.