UMass Out To Atone For Kentucky Visit
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1992
AMHERST - For its Dec. 4 game against Kentucky, Massachusetts' misfortunes began long before tip-off. In fact, things looked bleak before the Minutemen arrived in Lexington. To trace back where things went wrong, you'd have to start the day before the game, when UMass defeated New Orleans in the Great Alaska Shootout final that began at midnight EST. Because of airline troubles, the Minutemen didn't arrive in the Radisson Hotel in Lexington until 10:30 p.m., less than 24 hours before the start of the Kentucky game.
Once the game started, they were hardly the Minutemen who had run their record to 5-0. Kentucky, which hadn't played in nearly two weeks, walked away with a 90-69 victory before a sellout crowd of 24,000 at Rupp Arena.
That's why the Minutemen are elated to get another crack at the Wildcats in tomorrow's NCAA East Regional semifinal in Philadelphia. UMass says it was hardly at full strength and didn't have much time to prepare, but still gave Kentucky a run before its legs said, “no mas.” The Minutemen expect better fortunes this time.
“We were under bad circumstances in that game,” said center Harper Williams, who helped put the Minutemen in the East semis with a thrilling 3- point basket with 30 seconds left against Syracuse Sunday. “We played a great game but we couldn't bounce back after they made a run.”
“The thing was, we had no time to prepare,” said coach John Calipari. “We played three games back-to-back in Alaska. We never got a chance to look at tape of Kentucky. It's hard when the kids aren't prepared.“
The scenario that kept UMass from being prepared? After they defeated New Orleans, the Minutemen were scheduled to take a flight at 1:30 a.m. Alaska time (5:30 a.m. EST) to Portland, Ore., then a connecting flight to Cincinnati, then a 90-minute drive south to Lexington. But because of engine trouble, the team sat at the airport for nearly four hours and didn't leave Anchorage until 5 a.m. Alaska time. They missed the connecting flight in Portland and had to wait five more hours.
The Minutemen checked into a Portland hotel for four hours to get a little sleep, then boarded what assistant coach James Flint said was a jam-packed flight to Cincinnati.
UMass arrived in Cincy at 8:30 p.m., but was slowed in traffic because of snow. “Our mental clocks were really five hours behind,” said assistant coach Bill Bayno. “I know I didn't get to sleep until 2 in the morning.”
UMass conducted a shootaround and “went over some stuff,” said Bayno. “It really hadn't hit us yet. We couldn't show much. When you go up against Rick Pitino, and he's had 13 days to prepare and you've had a half a day, his chances are very good.”
Not only did Kentucky have time to prepare, but it entered the game after being routed by Pittsburgh at home Nov. 22 in the second round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament. Calipari expressed concern as early as Nov. 23 (at halftime of the UMass-New Hampshire football game) that Kentucky would be eager for a win. Kentucky, however, had its own misfortune the day before the game, losing starting guard Jeff Brassow to an ankle injury.
UMass played well at the start, leading by as many as 6 points. The Minutemen were ahead, 19-15, when Kentucky staged a 9-0 run. Led by guard Richie Farmer, Kentucky increased its lead to 42-31 with 4:32 left in the half before UMass made an 8-0 run to close to 42-39. UMass trailed at halftime, 46-41.
UMass kept it close until the 12-minute mark of the second half, when Kentucky began pulling away and the Minutemen didn't have the legs to stage a rally.
“Farmer killed us,” said Calipari of the senior guard who scored 22 points, 13 in the second half. “Anton Brown, UMass guard was tired, but he is a much better player now than then.
“In the first half, we didn't play well at all. In the second half, we did, but we just tired out at the end of the game.”
UMass, which left after practice yesterday for Philadelphia, should be well rested tomorrow.
“Will it make a difference this time? I don't know,” said Calipari. “Kentucky is playing much better than at that time. But so are we.”
Glass Slipper Doesn't Quite Fit Minutemen
NCAA Tournament Notebook
By Mark Blaudschun and Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/1992
Looking for a Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament? Some are pinning that label on John Calipari's University of Massachusetts team. But let's face it. The Minutemen are the third-seeded team in the East and were expected to reach tomorrow night's Regional semifinals.
No, the real dark horses will be in the Midwest Regional in Kansas City Friday. Only fourth-seeded Cincinnati was expected to make it past the first two rounds, and the Bearcats are developing their own drama, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their last national championship.
The other teams are truly underdogs. Texas-El Paso, the ninth seed, made it to the Sweet 16 by stunning No. 1 Kansas. Sixth-seeded Memphis State pulled off a minor surprise by beating third-seeded Arkansas, and seventh-seeded Georgia Tech came up with a miracle last-second shot to knock off No. 2 seed Southern Cal.
If anyone but Cincinnati wins, the Midwest will send the lowest-seeded team to the Final Four since Kansas advanced out of the Midwest Regional in 1988 as a sixth seed. The Jayhawks, with the benefit of playing the Final Four at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, went on to win the title. The Jayhawks were the lowest-seeded team to win a championship since Villanova did it in 1985 as an eighth seed.
The biggest underdog is 12th-seeded New Mexico State, which has the toughest route – top-seeded UCLA and then either No. 3 seed Florida State or No. 2 seed Indiana.
Former Rice coach Scott Thompson yesterday was named head man at Wichita State, which had considered Calipari for the post. “What I think they wanted me to do is move now, and I told them I wasn't willing to take it,” said Calipari, who is in the final year of his original four-year contract. The pact is automatically renewed every four years, to assure recruits he will be around for their tenure. “Wichita State told me that the job could be taken while you're still playing,” added Calipari. “And I told them, 'Fine,' and that's what happened. If I wanted to leave here, there are jobs I can take and earn a lot more money than I would have earned there.” Calipari's current salary is thought to be about $75,000 base with incentives that bring it to about $110,000. He refused to discuss any terms of his salary yesterday, but did confirm that Wichita State promised to double the figure. “Money is not the end-all to everything,” he said. “I'm not saying I'm always going to be here, but I'm not looking to leave.” . . . UMass starting guard Jim McCoy, who turned his ankle in Sunday's game against Syracuse, did not practice yesterday. “I have to get more treatment because it's still swelling,” said McCoy, who hurt himself on the second play of the game when he stepped on the foot of Syracuse center Conrad McRae. “I just taped it really tight at halftime; I put the tape around my socks,” said McCoy, who spent yesterday's session shooting free throws. “I knew as soon as I stopped putting pressure on it for a while it would start swelling up.” McCoy is expected to practice today at the noon session in Philadelphia . . . About 100 UMass fans, many carrying pompons and placards, attended the session – said to be the most spectators ever at a Minuteman practice – before the team left for Bradley International Airport. The team was treated to a pep rally before departing.
Minutemen May Be The N.E. Team Of The '90s
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1992
AMHERST – John Calipari took the Curry Hicks Cage floor on Nov. 8, 1988, with a spanking new suit and a kick in his step. It was his first game as head coach of Massachusetts, which that evening entertained the Taby Club of Sweden in an exhibition.
Just before the game started, Calipari noticed that four men in UMass garb took seats right behind the Minutemen bench. Then, to his surprise, the four began heckling the Minutemen just after tipoff. “This team is terrible! Is this what we're paying you for?” said one. “Even former coach Ron Gerlufsen teams were better than this!” said another. Then the four began chanting the first names of Calipari and his three assistants – Bill Bayno, Dave Glover and Roger McCready – in a tone similar to the “Lions, tigers and bears” lyric in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Bil-ly and Da-vid and Ro-ger and JOHN.”
“Bil-ly and Da-vid and Ro-ger and JOHN.”
“Bil-ly and Da-vid and Ro-ger and . . . ”
John began to wonder what had he gotten himself into.
“I turned to one of the senior players and said, 'Is this the way it is at every home game?' ” recalled Calipari. That was to say nothing of the Minutemen's road games at that time; UMass won four of its first six, then became the stuff wincing was made of – a 106-87 loss at Florida Tech, 103-77 at George Washington, 105-77 at Duquesne. The final Minutemen team of the 1980s was much like the rest – determined but often outmanned and undersized. Punch line material.
How times have changed. In the centennial year of basketball, the Division 1 team closest to the the sport's birthplace is now one of the hottest teams in the nation and could very well be New England's team of the '90s.
Tonight's NCAA East Regional semifinal game against Kentucky puts UMass at the pinnacle of its 90-year basketball program. Most wins in a season (30). First season without back-to-back losses since 1956. Fewest losses (4) since 1971. Longest win streak (14) since 1935. First finish in the Associated Press Top 25 poll (17th). First Atlantic 10 Conference title. Most important, first to advance in the NCAA tournament, after gaining only its second berth ever. To put it plainly, the team that was once a joke both home and away has arrived in the Big Time.
“When I brought John Calipari in, immediately I knew he was a winner,” said athletic director Frank McInerney. “But I never in my wildest dreams thought we would play Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA tournament. I stand in utter awe over what he has done this year.”
And those heckling Cage fans of four years ago? Long gone. They've been replaced by 21 consecutive standing-room-only crowds who bow with outstretched arms when Calipari takes the floor and give thundering applause when the UMass band plays the “Tonight” show theme (“Heeeeeere's Johnny” – get it?).
“In my freshman year, we had to beg people to come watch us play,” said senior guard Jim McCoy. “There would be no one there, 200 people at the most. Now people are bugging us for tickets. So the program has changed around, but you have to give credit to the coaching staff. They're the ones who went out and recruited the ballplayers that we have right now.”
“This is the year where you try real hard to keep things in perspective; I never forget how fleeting this kind of thing is,” said Calipari. He added that although he believes the program has been turned around, it will be difficult to duplicate this season's 30 wins. “Next year we will be limited to a 26-game season; in order to win 30 games again, we would have to go undefeated and make the Final Four. People have to understand that that is a special thing, not to be duplicated. We hit everything right this year.”
Calipari gets excited about the 30-win mark, particularly when he considers where the team has come from. “We used to lose by 33 points on the road,” he said. “Then Anton Brown goes down, and we find a good point guard in Cary Herer, who helps us to get to the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. If that would not have happened, none of this would be possible. And now we have 30 wins! 3-0! . . . I expect now that we level off and stay at a certain point of competitiveness.”
Whether UMass will lay claim to being the team of the '90s remains to be seen. But a foundation appears set for at least the next couple of years. Even with the Minutemen graduating three senior starters, the two junior returnees – Tony Barbee and Harper Williams – should be more than enough to prevent a rebuilding year. UMass' other underclassmen – particularly freshmen Lou Roe and Jerome Malloy – could ensure a solid future with sound development. Moreover, Calipari's incoming freshman class could be one of the best in the nation. He already has signed heralded New York City standout Dana Dingle, who twice scored 30 points against Baltimore Dunbar High, the No. 1 high school team in the nation, according to USA Today. UMass is still in the running with Ohio State for Dunbar's most celebrated player, Donta Bright. Ohio State reportedly would have no scholarship to give Bright unless standout junior Jimmy Jackson decided to leave this season and turn professional. Jackson reportedly has said he will return for his senior year.
Next season UMass is scheduled to move into a new 9,000-seat convocation center, just in time to accommodate the hundreds who are turned away for home games after Curry Hicks Cage reaches capacity. The center is expected to open next year – maybe as early as January.
Perhaps no one at UMass is more aware of how far the basketball program has come than former coach Jack Leaman, the school's winningest coach (217-126 from 1966-79). Now with the women's program, Leaman guided the Minutemen to five 20-win seasons, fielding such players as Julius Erving, Al Skinner and Rick Pitino. Then in the Yankee Conference, Leaman's teams won nine titles, but did not go to postseason play because the league lost its automatic bid and rarely received an at-large invitation since it was considered among the weaker conferences.
“If you think there's a lot of argument about who gets into the tournament now, with 64 teams, imagine how it was back then, when it was 32 teams,” said Leaman. UMass made the move to the newly formed Eastern Athletic Association (now the Atlantic 10) in 1977. Back then, Rutgers, which had just been to the Final Four, West Virginia and others were far superior teams, and in the '80s, it showed – as UMass went the entire decade without a winning season.
“It was tough; we were outmanned and outspent,” said Leaman. “We were outeverythinged. There were not enough good players and our budget wasn't the same as teams in our league. And at that time, you needed to either be in the top 30 of your class or score 1,000 on your boards to get a scholarship, so that limited recruiting.
“You can go from top to bottom like this,” added Leaman, snapping his fingers. “But to go from bottom back to top is not easy.”
There's no doubt in Leaman's mind that UMass has arrived. “Oh yeah, we're now competitive with the whole area. My philosophy has always been to take a good look at what the most successful teams are doing and copy it. John Calipari, to his credit, went after champions. Now we have a rock-solid program from start to finish.”
Now the task will be warding off competitive challenges from those who are where UMass used to be. “They can't claim to be David anymore,” said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. “They may not be Goliath, but they're certainly not David. The University of Massachusetts is for real.”
Calipari Is Proving He's His Own Man
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1992
PHILADELPHIA – John Calipari has felt the need to inform the public exactly who he is not.
“I coach with my own personality,” the precocious University of Massachusetts mentor insists. “I'm not Rick Pitino, Paul Evans or Larry Brown.”
He was an assistant coach with Brown at Kansas. He was an assistant coach for two years with Evans at Pitt. But the routine comparison is with Pitino, a fellow Italian from the Northeast whom he first met at the famed Five Star Camp many years ago.
Pitino, Pitino, Pitino. The reference follows him everywhere. Pitino was a Five Star prodigy who received his first Division 1 head coaching job (Boston University) at age 25. Calipari was a Five Star prodigy who assumed his first Division 1 head coaching job at age 28. Aside from the shared Italian heritage and the obvious good looks, each was a collegiate point guard and each is regarded as both frighteningly ambitious and amazingly organized.
The automatic assumption that Calipari is nothing but a Little Ricky has been fueled by the fact that Pitino, then the Knicks' coach, recommended Calipari for the job as a member of the search committee that hired Calipari as the UMass coach four years ago. “It's flattering to be compared to Rick Pitino,” acknowledges Calipari. “But if you watch our teams play, you wouldn't say they play alike at all. I've never even sat on the bench with him. I don't know what he says to his players.”
“What I do know,” Calipari laughs, “is that his suits cost $1,000 and mine cost $150. He's got Gucci shoes on. I've got itchy shoes on.”
Calipari was ready for the first Pitino inquiry yesterday. “People are always asking me about Rick Pitino,” he said, placing a Rick Pitino mask over his face. “Any questions for Rick?”
OK, so who is John Calipari?
“I lived five steps from the high school,” he explains. “Sometime around third or fourth grade, I became the ballboy and batboy for the baseball team. The assistant baseball coach, Bill Sacco, was also the basketball coach, and I looked up to him. I saw how he treated the players and I thought it was an important job and something I might like to do.”
This took place in the Pittsburgh-area town of Moon, Pa. Young John went on to become a three-year starter on the high school basketball team. He was good enough to earn a scholarship to North Carolina-Wilmington, but things did not go according to the Calipari master plan.
“I was a gym rat,” he explains. “I lived to play. Whenever I had any frustrations, I would take them out by pounding that leather ball. When I went to college, it never occurred to me I wouldn't be playing. But one day the coach, Mel Gibson, told me he had recruited someone who was better than me.
“We talked. We're still friends, incidentally. I said, 'It's not like this isn't important to me. I've got to leave because I've got to play.' Grades were no problem. I figured I could get an education at any number of places. But playing basketball was too important to me.”
But leaving North Carolina-Wilmington for Clarion (Pa.) State still wasn't easy for him. “It was a very, very tough experience,” recalls Calipari. “I'd wake up in a sweat. And that's why I'm very sensitive to transfers today. When Scott Drapeau wanted to leave our program, I was really bothered. I wondered what I did wrong. I felt I let he and his family down.”
John Calipari still likes baseball a little and golf a little and he used to like football, but primarily because of Francis Tarkenton. “He was unconventional,” Calipari says. “He was courageous. That's the way I'd like to think our team is.”
Hockey? “I went to one hockey match – is that what they call it, a match? The first period ended and here comes the guy with the Zamboni. I said, 'What happens now? We watch this guy drive around?' I left and I haven't been back.”
So we're talking basketball, period. John Calipari has studied basketball and those who play it the way an ayatollah dissects the Koran. He has concluded that the essential dynamic is this: five egos, one basketball.
“The important aspect of coaching,” he begins, “is the schmoozing with the players and exploring the psychological aspect. If you can't crack that, then the technicalities aren't going to matter.”
He starts off each season with the same dissertation. “I tell them that I've added up all their high school averages and it comes to 285 points a game,” he explains. ” 'So it's pretty obvious some of you guys are going to have to do something other than shoot the ball.' It's hard for some of them to accept.“
The record suggests that Calipari knows how to impart his message. His five starters average 10-16 points a game. “We don't have just one 'go-to' guy,” points out senior Jim McCoy, the all-time UMass scoring leader. “We have five 'go-to' guys.”
“I don't know if I'm a good coach,” says Calipari, alluding to his X and O expertise. “But I think I can get kids to play hard and play unselfishly. We led the league in seven team categories. I'm proud of that.”
Calipari is a definite hands-on coach who is comfortable injecting himself into every facet of his players' lives. “He tries to make you a people person,” contends senior William Herndon. “When he goes speaking, he'll take two or three of us along. He'll say, 'Will Herndon has something to say to you folks, too.' ”
“We've argued many times,” says McCoy, “and some people don't understand our relationship. I tell him how I feel. He tells me how he feels. But it comes down to love. He's like a father to me, and my own parents have put their trust in him.”
He has taken a team to the Sweet 16 at age 32. The smart money says this will not represent the pinnacle of his coaching career.
Pitino: A Win Is Bigger Than Old School Ties
NCAA Tournament Notebook
By Mark Blaudschun and Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1992
PHILADELPHIA – Kentucky's Rick Pitino said that, once again, he will not have any qualms about coaching against his alma mater.
“There is no emotion when you play your alma mater,” said Pitino. “You root for them when you don't play them. But there is no extra emotion because I went to school there. Right now it's just another opponent.”
When Kentucky defeated Massachusetts earlier this season, Pitino said he hoped his alma mater would reach the field of 64. “I said that I hoped that we meet each other in the Final Four,” he said. “I thought they were an outstanding ball club that there is nothing to be embarrassed about in Kentucky's 90-69 victory.
“They have three 1,000-point scorers. They're a veteran ball club. They rebound well. They play unselfishly. They're a legitimate top 10 or top 15 team in the country. We played a tough schedule this year; UMass could play anybody on our schedule and compete.”
As expected, there have been many comparisons between Pitino and UMass coach John Calipari. “I don't think I look anything like him; people say I do,” said Calipari. “I can't get my eyes to widen like his.” Said UMass guard Jim McCoy, “Everybody thinks that Coach Cal is a young Rick Pitino. He's really not; he's Coach Cal. To me, there's no comparison between the two. Coach Pitino has his style of coaching and Coach Cal has his style of coaching. Coach Cal has been around for a while; he's been at Kansas and Pittsburgh, so I don't think this is anything new to him, and I think that's why we're doing so well.” . . . McCoy says that the ankle he sprained in the subregionals at Worcester is healing.”I didn't do too much cutting on it today,” said McCoy. “It should be all right.” . . . UMass is 2-1 in games played in Philadelphia this year. The loss came against Temple in the regular season. The wins came in the Atlantic 10 tournament . . . McCoy said he is not concerned about UMass gaining respect anymore. “We just want people to say that we're a hard-working team,” he said. “We go out and play together. As far as respect is concerned, I think a lot of people, when we got the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, laughed at it. They said maybe we got it because we were playing in Worcester. I think we went in and proved we deserved a 3 seed.”
Duke, as the No. 1 seed in the East and top-ranked team in the country, is the favorite to make it out of this region. But no one is conceding the Blue Devils a free pass.
“I would not be surprised to see Duke lose,” said Pitino. “The great thing about this tournament is that for any one game, something can go wrong, even for a great team like Duke, and then they're out. That's what makes this a great tournament.”
THANKS A LOT
Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo had some fun with the NCAA basketball tournament committee, which has placed the Pirates in the same region as the No. 1-ranked team in four of the past five years. “It's not surprising that a lot of people don't like me,” joked Carlesimo, who probably has as many friends as any coach in college basketball. “What is unusual is that a lot of them are on the selection committee.” . . . Calipari has been named coach of the year by Hoop Scoop magazine.
UMass Seeks To Exploit Its Inside Information
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/26/1992
PHILADELPHIA – The way Massachusetts coach John Calipari talked about his team's preparation for Kentucky in tonight's NCAA East Regional semifinal, you expected to see the Minutemen practicing in Georgetown jerseys.
Calipari insists that Kentucky coach Rick Pitino will abandon his 3-point- oriented offense and pull the same wrinkle that led Pitino's 1987 Providence squad to the Final Four. Providence had marched through that tourney on the strength of Billy Donovan's 3-point baskets, but in the Southeast Regional final against Georgetown, the Friars went inside and put the Hoyas away easily, 88-73. Donovan scored 20 points, but 16 came from the free throw line.
“Rick's going to try to do the same thing to us that he did against Georgetown – all inside,” said Calipari, who for the second time this season will go against Pitino, a UMass graduate who once coached him at a basketball camp.
“I think Rick believes he has an advantage against us inside.”
That would be quite a change for Pitino, whose offense is geared around two shots – 3-pointers and layups. Pitino has said repeatedly that he winces when players take shots from 15-18 feet; he figures that if you simply step back a couple of feet, you've got a chance at 3. In fact, his players often run a practice drill in which they stand two steps behind the 3-point line, so they can step up and fire when they square to the basket. That helps prevent suspense when officials rule whether a player's foot was on or over the 3- point line when he released the ball.
Yet Calipari believes Kentucky will abandon all this and gear its offense around 6-foot-7-inch center Jamal Mashburn, a widebody who scored 28 points against the Minutemen in Kentucky's 90-69 win Dec. 4.
“They will get the ball to Mashburn inside with his back to the basket,” said Calipari. “They figure he'll score 25-30 points and they'll win.
“We don't know if we're good enough to beat Kentucky. They're a very, very strong club. They're very well coached. We're just going to play the way we played all along. We're not going to try to fool anybody. I'm not smart enough to do that as a coach. We've got good players. The key is that we make the game easier for each other, that we make the extra pass.”
The man assigned to guard Mashburn will be center Harper Williams, who helped guide UMass here with a late 3-point basket in the 77-71 win over Syracuse.
“Mashburn was good in the first game; he made a couple of good plays,” said Williams, who added he doesn't believe Kentucky will change much.
UMass guard Jim McCoy agrees with his coach. “There's not too much you can say about them; they have the 3-point shots and Mashburn,” he said. “But it's not about us stopping the threes, it's about us stopping Mashburn. If we can stop Mashburn and contain them on the threes, we'll be in the game.”
Not surprisingly, UMass practiced against containing the threes for good measure. “You've got to guard against the three; if they're . . . open, they'll make it,” said Calipari. “It's not the wing position we're concerned about; we're concerned about the inside play of Mashburn and forward Gimel Martinez.”
If this is like the regular-season meeting, Calipari could be right. Kentucky made just four 3-point baskets. In addition to Mashburn's exploits, guard Richie Farmer scored 22 points.
McCoy doesn't believe the Wildcats will look to the last contest as a motivator. “I don't think they'll really think about it at all,” he said. “They knew our circumstances. We didn't even have time to prepare for them.”
Calipari agreed. “The game at Kentucky, they beat us,” he said. “Forget about the trip to Lexington from the Great Alaska Shootout. Forget about whatever you want to say. They were better prepared. They were very well coached in that game. Now this is another game.”
UMass Continues Quest For Respect Against Kentucky
By Jere Longman, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 3/26/1992
On Dec. 4, exhausted and redolent of victory after winning the Great Alaska Shootout, Massachusetts stopped off at Kentucky, where the Minutemen lost the game, 90-69, and much of their recently won prestige.
“We kinda got blown out,” said guard Jim McCoy, UMass' all-time leading scorer. “When we got home, we got a lot of criticism. They said we couldn't play with the big programs.”
When the NCAA tournament pairings were announced two weeks ago, McCoy flashed a smile of redemption. The East Regional bracket was familiar. The Minutemen (30-4) had beaten their first-round opponent, Fordham, in last year's NIT. They had defeated Iowa State earlier this season. And, looming ahead in the regional semifinals was Kentucky (28-6).
“We can go as far as we want,” McCoy told his teammates.
The rematch takes place tonight at the Spectrum (Channel 10, 7:40), after 3 1/2 agonizing months of waiting. Aside from advancing the winner one step closer to the Final Four, the game offers different rewards to Kentucky and UMass. The Wildcats are trying to recapture the glory of Kentucky basketball after two seasons on NCAA probation. UMass is building something that Kentucky has had for decades - a reputation.
The alma mater of Julius Erving and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, UMass is still largely ignored on the basketball scene, playing as it does in the TV- limited Atlantic Ten Conference. This is the first appearance by the Minutemen in the NCAA tournament in 30 years.
“We beat Oklahoma, we still didn't get any respect,” said McCoy. “We beat Iowa State, we didn't get any respect. We beat Syracuse (Sunday in a second-round game) and everyone thought it was a fluke: Syracuse didn't play well. We'll see what happens. Maybe this'll show we can play with the big guys.”
In the December meeting, Kentucky took a 46-41 halftime lead, surged ahead by 15 points with five minutes left, then inflated the margin with free-throw shooting down the stretch. The Wildcats displayed a certain resourcefulness; thwarted at three-point shooting, Kentucky funneled the ball inside to 6-foot- 8 forward Jamal Mashburn, who delivered 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky played at home after 12 days of rest. UMass had played 48 hours earlier - in Alaska.
“When people ask about that game, I say, 'How would you feel if you flew 14 hours, came in at 9 or 10 at night and played the next night at 7 o'clock?' ” McCoy said. “But I don't think it would have mattered if we had been in Alaska or not. Kentucky played a great game. We weren't prepared; we deserved to lose.”
There is little connective tissue between that game and this one. UMass is a vastly improved team. It has won 14 straight games, 19 of 20. The Minutemen play a blood-sport brand of basketball, contesting every rebound, unleashing a barbed-wire defense, diving for loose balls, clawing, scratching, prevailing with a fierce desperation.
All five starters, led by McCoy's 16.2 points a game, average in double figures. Forward William Herndon is a vaulting leaper at 6-3 and shoots 71 percent from the field. Center Harper Williams, whose second three-point shot of the season rocked Syracuse in a 77-71 overtime victory on Sunday, was named player of the year in the A-10. Forward Lou Roe, a freshman from Atlantic City, averages eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
The Minutemen can run, they can pull back the throttle, they can hit free throws in crunch time. Against Syracuse, they hauled down 19 offensive rebounds. More important, the Minutemen are loose, apparently unencumbered by the pressure of the NCAA tournament. Last week, coach John Calipari said that his team's biggest worry was where it was going to eat. Yesterday, asked what concerned UMass about Kentucky, McCoy said, “I don't think we have any concerns.”
Calipari interrupted, saying, “We're very fearful of playing them.”
Kentucky plays the same relentless style that Pitino employed at Providence and with the New York Knicks - three-point shooting and 40 minutes of pressure defense. The Wildcats forced 30 turnovers in an 88-69 first-round win over Old Dominion. Against Iowa State, Kentucky drained eight three-pointers in the first half, then demonstrated its versatility by dumping the ball inside to Mashburn in the second half to win, 106-98.
“We like the reputation of being a three-point team,” Pitino said. ''Lately, we've been averaging about 50 points in the paint.“
Calipari, the UMass coach, is playing to the hilt this idea of the David of UMass versus the Goliath of Kentucky. Calipari said Pitino's suits cost $1,000 while his cost $150, and that while Pitino favored Gucci shoes, he could afford only itchy shoes. Pitino would have none of it.
“It's getting tiring,” Pitino said. “They are a Sweet 16 team. They just beat the Big East champion. They can't claim to be David anymore. Maybe they're not Goliath, but they certainly can't claim to be David.”
From the UMass Basketball 1992-93 Media Guide, published by UMass Athletics
This one was more painful than the first meeting of the year as UMass fought back from a 50-42 halftime deficit to close the gap to two with 6:17 remaining. But, the Wildcats found their own way to scratch back and went on a 9-2 run after a technical foul was called on the UM bench.
The Minutemen couldn't stop the Wildcats' Jamal Mashburn who had 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting as UMass was outscored in the paint, 54-34. Jim McCoy led the Minutemen with 21 points, including a 55-foot three point heave to close out the first half, followed by Will Herndon's 15 on 6-for-8 shooting. Lou Roe added nine points and a game-high seven rebounds.
Kentucky jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes and led by as many as 21 points with 7:33 remaining in the first half. The Wildcats shot 68 percent in the first half and 56 percent for the game while forcing 16 UMass turnovers.
UMass Dream Ends
Kentucky Ends Dream For UMass
NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/27/1992
PHILADELPHIA – Long after their faces have cracked and their hair has turned silver, they will reflect on this game – and wells of “what ifs” will fill their minds and bring tears to their eyes. What if they hadn't gotten off to such a poor start? What if they hadn't blown four opportunities to cut the lead to 2 before finally doing so? And what if the coach hadn't been hit with a technical foul at the most pivotal moment?
Perhaps the finest basketball season in University of Massachusetts history would not have come to such a bitter end last night. Instead, all the aformentioned scenarios – and much more – did take place. They enabled Kentucky, the team which handed UMass its first loss of the season, to hand the Minutemen their last, an 87-77 defeat in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at the Spectrum.
The loss ends 17th-ranked and third-seeded UMass' season at 30-5. Kentucky, seeded second and ranked sixth, improved to 29-6 and will meet Duke.
Kentucky center Jamal Mashburn, who scored 28 points (on 9-for-15 shooting) in a 90-69 win over UMass Dec. 4, outdid himself last night – 30 points (11- for-15 shooting), including 17 in the first half. He helped Kentucky jump out to a 37-16 lead with 7:33 left in the half.
“I told Mashburn that he had to have an NBA All-Star game tonight,” said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. “He had to be the difference between both teams because he is.”
But UMass staged a late rally and cut the lead to 50-42 at intermission. The Minutemen's final 3 points came on a 70-foot, heave-ho trifecta by guard Jim McCoy (a team-high 21 points).
UMass cut the gap to 60-58 with 12:25 left on a bucket by Will Herndon. It came after the Minutemen botched four chances to cut the lead further after pulling to 58-54 with 14:59 left.
Kentucky went up, 68-62, with 7:51 left. Then with 6:15 to go, UMass guard Anton Brown drained a 3-point basket to cut the lead to 70-68. The place was rocking and the game appeared capable of going either way.
With six minutes left, it did. Kentucky forward Deron Feldhaus attempted a 3-pointer, and the ball sailed high off the rim. Brown went up to haul it in, but guard Sean Woods came up behind him and tapped it back to Kentucky. UMass coach John Calipari began motioning that Woods had gone over Brown's back and made contact on the play. Then the coach was hit with a technical foul – stunning both benches and just about everyone else in the building.
Kentucky guard Richie Farmer hit two free throws to up the lead to 72-68. Then on the possession, Feldhaus scored on a layup. UMass was never the same again.
The technical foul touched off a flood of questions to both Calipari and Pitino during the postgame press conference. There was some question as to whether Calipari stepped out of the coach's box when he gestured.
Calipari, who said he cried after the game because the loss meant the end of their careers for his seniors, said, “The officials did not win or lose the game for us. That's like one call out of many. They had the ball, so we did not lose possession of the ball. It cost us 2 points.
“The official had his job to do, and I have my job to do. If I step out of the box, he can call a technical.” Asked what he would think if the call was made because of his gesture, Calipari said, “No comment.” He put his hands over his eyes as his players fielded questions about the technical.
“I think the game got away from us at that point,” said Brown. “I thought there was some contact on the play. Our momentum was strong at that point, and that took the wind out of our sails.”
Pitino had been criticized by Iowa State coach Johnny Orr for leaving the coach's box in Sunday's game. “The referees told me that if I left the box one time tonight, they would hit me with a technical,” said Pitino. “I didn't leave the box. I think we still would have won the game had the technical not occurred . . . but I don't like to see that kind of thing happen.”
It did, and too many more plays like it led to the UMass loss. As Calipari said later, nothing could take away from the Minutemen's season. But the way it ended will leave a bitter taste that may never go away.
The Referee Counted Them Out
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/27/1992
PHILADELPHIA – It was a five-on-five Hagler vs. Leonard. Massachusetts simply gave away the first four or five rounds.
“I don't know what happened,” sighed Minutemen coach John Calipari. “We were so tentative in the beginning. They hit us with about seven knockout punches, but the big thing is, we did not go down. It was close, but we didn't go down.”
UMass didn't go down, but UMass didn't get the referee's or judges' decision, either. The greatest season in the school's history came to a close at the Spectrum last night when Kentucky walked off with an 87-77 triumph and thus advanced to tomorrow evening's NCAA Eastern Regional final.
The UMass kids will always have to live with the thought that Kentucky beat them by simply being more like them than they were themselves. Kentucky consists of a future lottery pick named Jamal Mashburn, a pocket Larry named John Pelphrey and a state of mind. UMass has more good athletes. But Kentucky has five decades of basketball's best tradition and Kentucky has Rick Pitino. Kentucky was readier to play, and that's why the Wildcats will be practicing today and the UMass players will be cleaning out their lockers.
The only positive occurrence for UMass in the first 12 minutes was the opening tap. Will Herndon, 6 feet 3 inches, outjumped Gimel Martinez, 6-10, by about 5 inches. But both Tony Barbee and Anton Brown missed on the opening possession, and before you could say, “Adolph Rupp,” the Minutemen were down, 6-0, and calling a timeout because they couldn't inbound the ball. Then things got much worse.
UMass looked totally confused, disorganized and lost. Barbee dropped two passes out of bounds. Jim McCoy dribbled the ball off his knee. Herndon took a jump shot, of all things. Louis Roe thought he was a guard and, after dribbling upcourt, threw the ball to the tuba player. You looked up at the scoreboard and Kentucky was leading by a ghastly 37-16.
“They shocked us,” admitted McCoy. “They came out to play like we usually play. All season long, we've come out diving on the floor and coming up with all the loose balls. But it was just the opposite in the first five minutes.”
Kentucky dominated every phase. The Wildcats moved without the ball, jammed it inside to the awe-inspiring Mashburn (30 stunning points) and, in general, put on an inside-out clinic. Kentucky was a much better team than the one which beat UMass by 21 back in early December.
“They were aggressive and very, very loose,” said Calipari. “They had fire in their eyes. All Rick Pitino's teams play that way down the stretch. We knew they'd be like this.”
Having said all this, let us move to the second half. UMass has bottomed out, regained its poise, gotten into what Calipari later calls a “goofy” 1-3-1 matchup zone, begun to stroke the ball with confidence and, when Anton Brown nails a three, finds itself within 2 (70-68) with 5:47 left and in firm possession of Mr. Mo. Then a recurrent human Michaelangelo virus named Lenny Wirtz decides to show the world – as he has done countless times over the last 25 years – that the game is subservient to his ego.
Lenny Wirtz is a referee who two decades ago was washed out of the NBA. He is the scourge of the Atlantic Coast Conference but, because of political skills Bill Clinton would envy, finds himself working important games. What he did was call a technical foul on John Calipari which ruined the game.
Kentucky's Sean Woods had just grabbed a long offensive rebound over the back of Brown. Calipari gave an over-the-top motion. Big deal. Wirtz, standing 45 feet away, slapped Calipari for a T. The only possible rationale (there is no way he could have heard anything) was that Calipari was out of the coaching box. Who cares? Lenny Wirtz, that's who. Richie Farmer sank both free throws, and the momentum was gone forever. Lenny Wirtz thinks the only reason for the game is to give him something to do on a Thursday night instead of going to a movie.
“Everyone is going to circle that technical foul,” said Calipari. “But let me say this. The refereee has a job to do, and I have a job to do. If I stepped out of the box, then he has a right to make the call.”
Very noble, John. Your lips are sealed and your hands are tied, which is understandable. You can't say what you really feel. But I can. The Lenny Wirtzes of the world have no idea what a referee's job is. Kentucky may very well have won the game without that call, but anyone who was in that building knows that one minute there was a certain feeling and the next minute there wasn't, and that Lenny Wirtz completely altered the momentum of the game for no good reason. The worst part is that he'll show up at some other NCAA tournament game this season and do the same thing.
There will be plenty of time to discuss the Big Picture and what a memorable and satisfying season UMass had. Everyone who follows this UMass team knows what an exemplary unit it was and how deserving of that No. 3 seed it proved to be. The point is that, wretched start or not, UMass did claw its way back and deserved an opportunity to win or lose on its own merits. You always want players to decide games, not Little Napoleons such as Lenny Wirtz.
OK, so I'm feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to see this team play again. Instead, I'll have to look at Lenny Wirtz again. This can really be a crummy world.
Mashburn Turned Game Inside Out
NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Jim Greenidge, Boston Globe Staff, 3/27/1992
PHILADELPHIA – It was University of Massachusetts coach John Calipari's biggest worry going into the game. No, not the 3-point shot, although Kentucky does a monster job of connecting on shots from behind the arc.
Against Kentucky last night in the NCAA East Regional semifinals, Calipari was fidgety about whether his Minutemen could stop Kentucky's inside game.
It turned out to be every bit the problem he suspected.
In beating UMass, 87-77, at the Spectrum, Kentucky scored 54 points inside the paint. The Wildcats got 32 of their 50 first-half points from that area in holding an 8-point lead at the intermission.
Sophomore forward Jamal Mashburn was particularly bothersome, hitting for 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting from the field, getting most of his buckets within several feet of the basket.
“We had an idea that they would go to the inside game,” said Calipari. “It was very obvious that we couldn't guard Mashburn. That was obvious after the first 12 minutes.”
Mashburn credited the Minutemen with doing a nice job of making sure he knew they were around by constantly leaning on him. “Our offense works perfectly for the high lob,” he said. “They tried to front me, but my teammates did a real nice job of lobbing it in to me.
“UMass was a very physical team,” added Mashburn. “They beat me up. It's one of the best inside teams I've gone against.”
Mashburn, who has a nose for finding the open spot, scored 9 straight Wildcats points in a 2 1/2-minute stretch, giving his team a 17-10 lead with 14:36 remaining in the first half.
Calipari had seen enough and went to the double-down game, something he didn't especially care to do, considering the way Kentucky flings the ball from afar.
The strategy worked for a while. For nearly 6 1/2 minutes – from 13:57 to 7:29 of the first half – Mashburn did not score a point. But Kentucky got the margin to 21 (37-16) in hitting 13 of its first 16 field goals.
“UMass did a real nice job of cutting off the lob for a while in the first half,” said Mashburn, “but I thought we did a good job of reversing the ball and getting the good shots.
“I don't feel that I'm the so-called 'man' on the team, though. If a team tries to just stop me, they're just going to get hurt by my teammates.”
Coach Rick Pitino had filibustered his players during the pregame with talk of how important the inside would be.
“I told Mashburn before the game that in order for us to win, he had to be the difference,” said Pitino. “That he had to play like an NBA All- Star. Not just an NBAer, but an NBA All-Star. Because he is the difference between the teams.”
You won't find many who would disagree.
Erving, Kennedy Get Mixed Reviews
NCAA Basketball Tournament / Notebook
By Joe Burris and Jim Greenidge, Boston Globe Staff, 3/27/1992
PHILADELPHIA – With 19 minutes left in the second half, the most renowned Minuteman ever made his way through the crowd and received a standing ovation. Julius Erving, who left the University of Massachusetts as its leading single- season scorer, took a spot in the crimson-filled UMass section.
Erving's reception from the fans was far different than that for Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was booed when his face showed upon the DiamondVision screen.
“Massachusetts has a young team and I think they're going to be future champs. They have everything to be proud of,” said Kennedy, who was sitting with his bride-to-be, Veronica Reggie. “But I thought the game was over- officiated a bit. Every time we got some momentum, the whistle blew.”
IT FIT HIM TO A T
John Calipari used to get technicals called on him when officials thought he was yelling at them instead of at his players.
In his first year of coaching, in a game at George Washington, he was so upset with the officiating he wanted a technical, then threatened to take off his clothes if he didn't get one. He got down to one of the buttons on his shirt before an official granted his wish.
The controversial call in last night's game – and the subsequent questions about it – had Calipari visibly shaken in the postgame press conference. He tried to hold off questions, but more came. In fact, long after he had left the conference, questions were still being raised about the call.
“I'm embarrassed totally that it happened,” said Calipari. “This was a dream season for us. It had to end sometime. We just hoped it would end in the Final Four.”
COACHES RIDING RUMOR-GO-ROUND
The latest coaching rumor floating around Philadelphia yesterday had Florida State's Pat Kennedy heading to Nevada-Las Vegas to replace Jerry Tarkanian.
That was countered by another report that Vegas officials were coming to town to interview Calipari.
Another rumor had more substance. Rice reportedly is interested in Holy Cross coach George Blaney.
Mark Blaudshun of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Technically, Calipari Copes
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/28/1992
PHILADELPHIA – John Calipari had one night to sleep on the most frustrating moment of his young coaching career.
The Massachusetts coach said yesterday he was no longer embarrassed, no longer upset about being hit with a technical foul with 5:47 left in Thursday's NCAA East Regional semifinal against Kentucky. His emotions weren't branded on his face as they were after Kentucky's 87-77 win.
But the feeling of being so close – of having a chance to advance to the regional final after being down in the first half by 21 points, then having it all snatched away in a heartbeat – still gnawed at his senses. As he did at Thursday night's postgame press conference, Calipari tried looking on the bright side – particularly his team's school-record 30 wins. But as had been the case Thursday night, just about every topic found its way back to the last six minutes of the UMass-Kentucky game.
“I'm over the technical,” said Calipari, who stood throughout the interview in his hotel room. “I'm fine. We had a hell of a run. You hate to lose no matter what; I felt bad after we lost to Temple and West Virginia this year. But to lose five games, two to Kentucky and two to other NCAA tournament teams, is not bad.
“In this game, we didn't get rough until it was too late. We were down 2 with 5:47 left. I'm saying, 'We're right in it. We've got a chance to win.' And then, boom! We're hit with a technical.” Incidentally, it marked the second time Calipari has been hit with a technical by referee Lenny Wirtz. The first was in overtime of a103-96 loss at Rutgers last year. “That one came at a time when the game was in the balance, too,” said Calipari. “I just think that there are times when you don't call it.”
Calipari said he wasn't out of the coaches' box when the technical was called. He also said UMass and Kentucky assistant coaches were involved in a heated discussion after the technical. As to be expected, he disagreed with Kentucky coach Rick Pitino's contention that the Wildcats would have won had the play not taken place. “The momentum of the game had changed,” he said. “They were getting tight. We had a chance after that. But still, the technical only cost us 2 points.”
Now that the season is over, Calipari said he will look at UMass' recruiting situation, sit down with administrators to discuss his current contract, head to the Final Four, then “go on vacation for a while.”
With his name being kicked around as one of the hottest coaches in the business, Calipari's tenure at UMass is undoubtedly a major concern among administrators. Calipari yesterday confirmed talk that several administrators from the University of Oregon were in the Northeast last week and asked permission to speak with him about the vacant post there. UMass administrators requested that Oregon wait until after the season.
Calipari said yesterday that he would not concern himself with the vacancy at Oregon right now; he will spend the next few days helping his interested seniors get into pro tryout camps. UMass guard Jim McCoy is already scheduled to attend the Portsmouth (Va.) camp the week after the Final Four. Calipari is hoping forward Will Herndon can also attend.
Efforts to reach Oregon athletic director Bill Byrne yesterday were unsuccessful.
McCoy, who is looking forward to the Portsmouth camp, said the team's season was not tarnished by the disappointing ending. “People say we should have been crying about it,” he said. “But you're not going to get every call. I'm upset, but that's just the way it is.
“It's been a good season for me. I think I did the things I needed to do to get the team to the NCAA tournament. I sacrificed a lot of my scoring for the help of the team, and I'm happy I did that.”
Loss a mirror of UMass fortunes
Climbing from slow start gave Minutemen respect
By Ron Chimelis, Springfield Union-News Staff, 3/27/1992
Philadelphia - Last night's Massachusetts-Kentucky NCAA East Regional basketball tournament semifinal at the Spectrum produced two moments that will be remembered above all others.
Neither Jim McCoy's long basket nor John Calipari's technical foul, however, were as truly defining as UMass' very participation in the game. The game represented a start-to-finish graph of what UMass basketball has been for the past four years, and those memories will endure long after the details of Kentucky's 87-77 victory are forgotten.
McCoy's heave from beyond half-court provided a thrilling moment for a thrilling team. UMass coach Calipari's technical provided a moment of passion for a passionate team, though admittedly not the kind that Calipari preferred.
But last night's game represented more than a collection of memorable moments. It began miserably, just like UMass basketball had been when the Calipari years began.
But like recent history, the game turned into a team's exhausting, inspiring climb from oblivion to a position where some of the biggest names in college basketball noticed and respected the Minutemen.
Calipari knew the post-game questions would center on the technical, and the UMass coach put on an interview performance that may have been his best, considering that he hadn't had to talk about a nationally-televised NCAA Tournament loss before.
“If I stepped out of the coaching box, he had a right to call it,” Calipari said in taking responsibility. “I'm going to leave it at that.”
No excuses, even though some confusion existed as to why the technical was called. The talk finally swung to McCoy's shot that brought UMass to within 50-42 at halftime.
“We should have been down 20 at halftime, and we were down eight,” Calipari said. In the second half, “we were on the verge,” he said.
Only the Spectrum appearance of a former UMass star named Julius Erving approached McCoy's shot in terms of crowd reaction. McCoy had made 35 three-pointers as a freshman, but the team's needs had changed, and he was 0-for-12 this year before air-mailing his shot from well behind half-court.
The shot made the mostly-UMass crowd think another miracle was possible. Earlier, Kentucky had carved up UMass for a 37-16 lead, and the tournament dream had turned nightmarish.
“The way they play, they come out and stun you,” Calipari said. “They throw about seven knockout punches at you. The good thing is, we didn't fall. We almost did, three or four times.”
To that point, Kentucky was the better team, the national primetime team, and UMass was simply a good team with a lot of excuses to fold - ankle injuries to McCoy and Anton Brown, an inability to contain an underrated Kentucky inside game led by Jamal Mashburn, and second-half foul trouble to center Harper Williams.
Kentucky scored 54 points in the paint, with Mashburn leading all scorers with 30 points. UMass also seemed nervous with a number of short-armed early shots, which was out of character for a team which handled all previous pressure smoothly.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, the question of when UMass would hit the ceiling of its potential existed, and the Minutemen seemed to be bumping their heads hard on that ceiling last night.
Kentucky has often lived by the three-pointer, but Calipari insisted that the Wildcats were more than a perimeter team, and unfortunately he was right.
“Mashburn's a pro,” the coach said. “We knew they'd go to him, and they did it anyway.”
The first 12 Kentucky points came from inside moves, layups or foul shots. The Wildcats didn't try their first three-pointer until Mashburn connected with the game over six minutes old.
“Mash is going to get his points,” UMass assistant Bill Bayno had said earlier in the day.
Unfortunately for UMass, Bayno was also right.
Calipari has become a master of the tournament press conference, partly through his wit and partly because he was one of a select number of coaches who didn't seem to mind them.
The winning coach goes last, and yesterday was the first time in the NCAAs that Coach Cal had to go first.
In January, UMass shocked Oklahoma at the Civic Center and Calipari went last, but he had to wait around while Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs completed a prior media commitment.
Calipari stood patiently on the side that night, because he knew he hadn't gone national yet.
Now he has, despite last night's disappointment. So has his team, which sought recognition and respect this year and shouldn't have to wait any more.
Kentucky TKOs UMass, 87-77
By Don Markus, Baltimore Sun Staff Writer, 3/27/1992
PHILADELPHIA – Kentucky needed something to get its second wind, to hold off an oncoming express train in ugly red uniforms. The Wildcats had watched their early 21-point lead evaporate, and Massachusetts was charging hard, trailing by two with a little less than six minutes left.
That's when Lennie Wirtz, who was officiating basketball games before John Calipari was born, stepped in and stopped the Minutemen cold. He called a controversial technical against the Massachusetts coach, and Kentucky was able to breathe again.
Starting with the technical on Calipari – Wirtz was 50 feet away from the UMass bench when he called it – the Wildcats went on an 11-2 run and broke away for an 87-77 victory in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at The Spectrum.
Richie Farmer made both technical free throws, and when Kentucky inbounded the ball, John Pelphrey fed Deron Feldhaus for a layup to make it 74-68.
After forcing a Massachusetts turnover, the Wildcats worked the same play, and this time, the Feldhaus layup pushed Kentucky's edge to 76-68.
The victory put Kentucky (29-6) into tomorrow night's regional final against either top-ranked, top-seeded Duke or fourth-seeded Seton Hall, with the winner advancing to next week's Final Four in Minneapolis. The defeat broke a 14-game winning streak and, more importantly, ended a magnificent season for Massachusetts (30-5).
Although Wirtz certainly played his part in the outcome, Kentucky center Jamal Mashburn played an ever larger part. He tore apart the Minutemen's interior defense for most of the night, and finished with 30 points. Pelphrey added 18 for the Wildcats.
It didn't appear that the Minutemen would make it much of a game. They missed their first four shots and Kentucky made its first eight. They missed 13 of their first 18 shots and the Wildcats made 14 of 19, creating a 37-16 Kentucky bulge.
Massachusetts had all kinds of problems with Mashburn, who scored three times inside in the opening minutes, went outside to hit a three, then went back inside. Eventually, the shots began to fall for the Minutemen and Kentucky's big lead began to dwindle.
After a ferocious rebound dunk by freshman center Andre Riddick gave the Wildcats a commanding 44-24 lead, the Minutemen made a run. They began hitting their shots, but more importantly, a combination of defenses shut off Kentucky's inside game.
Trailing 44-28 with a little more than four minutes left, Massachusetts went to the zone. Mashburn powered in for a couple of post-up baskets, but Kentucky seemed to be standing around. The Minutemen started running and two jumpers, one by Tony Barbee and the other by Jim McCoy, cut Kentucky's lead into single digits for the first time since early in the game.
Finally, after a layup by Junior Braddy gave the Wildcats a 50-39 lead, the teams traded turnovers in the closing seconds. Taking the ball inbounds under his own basket with 1.4 seconds left, Massachusetts forward William Herndon passed leisurely to McCoy, whose two-handed, 70-foot push shot hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
The shot sent the crowd into an uproar and the Minutemen into their locker room at halftime with renewed confidence. After being outplayed and outshot for most of the half, Massachusetts was only down by eight at halftime. And Kentucky, which might have been thinking ahead to tomorrow's regional final, suddenly found itself in a game.
Kentucky saw its lead evaporate even more in the opening minute of the second half. It was down to four, 50-46, before the Wildcats stretched it back to 58-48 on a drive by Farmer with 16 minutes left.
Twice, the Minutemen got within four, but they would miss open jumpers or wouldn't be able to handle the Wildcats' fullcourt press. Once, they got to within two, 60-58, but McCoy forced a jumper as the 45-second clock bore down.
And Mashburn, who scored 17 points in the first half, continued to give Massachusetts problems inside. He got fouled going up after rebounding a three- point miss by Pelphrey and made both free throws for a 64-58 lead. Then, after McCoy and Herndon missed for the Minutemen, he posted up for another short jumper to push the Wildcats ahead by eight, 66-58.
When Massachusetts answered with a pair of free throws by Herndon and a drive by freshman reserve Louis Roe, Mashburn simply moved down in the lane, called for the ball and fingerolled it in for the basket. But the Minutemen wouldn't fold, cutting the Kentucky lead back to 70-68 with a little more than six minutes left.
March 26, 2012
The technical foul call on UMass coach John Calipari remains a highly controversial subject within the UMass fan community.
In the first half, the Wildcats had built a 21-point lead (37-16 at the 7:33 mark), and maintained a 20-point lead (44-24) at the 5:23 mark. UMass began chipping away, and cut the deficit to just 9 (48-39) with 1:19 to play in the half. With McCoy's 3/4 court make at the halftime buzzer, the Kentucky lead shrank to 8 (50-42), and momentum was with the Minutemen.
In the second half, leading up to the technical, Kentucky maintained their lead, and it stood at 8 (66-58) with 8:52 to play. UMass went on a run of their own and the Kentucky lead fell to just 2-points (70-68). At the 5:47 mark, Wirtz called the technical on Calipari for being outside of the “coaching box”.
Watch the portion of the game highlights video, starting at the technical coverage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7dmAoSBmFo&t=6m51s
As heard in that highlight video, Calipari states that he didn't think he was out of the coaching box, and mentions the floor design of the Spectrum.
The asymmetrical design and color scheme of the Spectrum basketball court was quite unusual. On both sidelines, a rainbow pattern starts at the endline, then proceeds towards the center of the court. The word “Spectrum” appears against a black background, and then an orange pattern continues to the right. However, the black Spectrum box is not centered. On the sideline with the team benches, most of the black box appears on the UMass-side of the floor. This uneven alignment of the floor color pattern, one could reasonably argue, adds an element of confusion to the positioning of the coaching box.
Also, the rainbow-colored pattern on the floor's left side is separated with white lines. The coaching box is also distinguished by a white line. The multiple white lines on the sideline adds another element of confusion about the correct positioning of the coaching box.
Finally, as Wirtz makes the call, he is standing approximately 70 feet away from Calipari, based on court dimensions and the position of each of the men at the time.1)
Based on those three factors (uneven alignment of sideline color pattern, usage of white lines to separate color scheme, and distance between Wirtz and Calipari), it is reasonable to assume that Wirtz could have mistakenly thought Calipari was out of the coaching box, when in actuality, he was inside the lines.
Regardless of whether or not call was correct, the game went on. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino sent Richie Farmer, a career 83.8% FT shooter, to the line for the technical free throws, and Farmer hit both. That began a 6-0 run (76-68) for Kentucky by the 5:08 mark, and an 11-2 run (81-70) by the 1:26 mark.
Many UMass fans will argue that the call robbed the Minutemen of the momentum they had built, and Kentucky took advantage of the shift. Though we'll never know how the game would have played out without the technical foul call, fans can speculate on the “what if's”.
Note: According to the UK fan web site BigBlueHistory.net, Lenny Wirtz worked in three games where Kentucky was playing. Kentucky won all three.2)
|Points off turnovers||19|
|Second chance points||13|
|Points in the paint||34|
|Points off turnovers||23|
|Second chance points||14|
|Points in the paint||54|
|Score by Periods||1st||2nd||OT1||OT2||OT3||Final|
|Officials||Lennie Wirtz, Jim Stupin, Tom Rucker|
|Technical Fouls||1 (UM: Coach John Calipari, 5:47 of 2nd)|