UMass is seeded No. 2 in Midwest
Foe: Southwest Texas
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/1994
SHUTESBURY – They were hoping for sunny skies, sandy beaches, perhaps even a room with a great view. Instead, they're going to a land so flat that on a clear day you can see Neptune.
Wichita, Kansas – that's where the University of Massachusetts basketball team take its show next. The Atlantic 10 champion Minutemen earned a second seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional yesterday and will meet 15th-seeded Southwest Texas State, winner of the Southland Conference at the Kansas Coliseum Thursday night.
Watching the tournament pairings show at the home of head coach John Calipari yesterday, the Minutemen players and coaches were elated to receive a No. 2 seed. Most expected to be sent out of the East Regional – where they have played the last two seasons as the No. 3 seed.
“I knew that when North Carolina won in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final yesterday that they would be the No. 1 seed in the East, and when Connecticut lost, they'd be the No. 2 seed,” said Calipari, who predicted yesterday afternoon that his team would be sent to the Midwest Region.
“I knew they would ship us out, and I knew they wouldn't ship us out to the West because they try to just move you over one region.”
Yet to say some of the Minutemen were surprised to be headed to Wichita was an understatement. Moments after the pairings were announced, UMass forward Lou Roe was asked what he knew about Southwest Texas State, and he replied, “Is that who we're playing?”
Roe added he wasn't paying attention when the Minutemen's opponent flashed across the screen, as his thoughts centered on heading to Kansas. “I'm a little shocked,” said Roe. “I thought we were going to the South, or at least Sacramento West regional. But that's all right; we're going to go out and do some work.”
UMass forward Dana Dingle agreed. “It's a decent seed, but I was hoping to go to the Southeast regional, someplace where it's warm,” he said. “But we have to be happy with what we got.”
UMass guard Derek Kellogg said it might be a blessing in disguise. “I was hoping for maybe St. Petersburg Southeast regional or Sacramento, but this is probably better than that. We're going to be concentrating more on the game rather than going out to the beach,” he said.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Calipari, who once coached at the University of Kansas. Like most other coaches headed to the tournament, he doesn't know much about his first-round opponent, which earned a berth to the tournament with a 69-60 win over North Texas on March 6.
“We'll just have to look at their championship game tape and go from there,” he said. “The thing is that I'm not so much worried about their team as I am our team.”
The other second seeds in the tournament are Arizona (West), Connecticut (East) and Duke (Southeast). Calipari said he tought his team had an outside shot at a No. 1 seed. “I figured if North Carolina had lost, maybe we would have backed into one,” he said. “But after you see your team's name on the screen you want to see what the other teams in your region are to see if you can advance in the tournament.”
UMass was one of three Atlantic 10 teams to make the field. Second-place Temple meets North Atlantic Conference champ Drexel in the East Regional, while third place George Washington meets Alabama-Birmingham in the East Regional.
“We're excited about our opponent, but to be truthful, we're just glad to be playing again,” said GW coach Mike Jarvis, former coach at Cambridge Rindge & Latin and Boston University. He figured his team had an opportuntity to make the tourney but had hoped for another win to make it certain.
“We were one of the bubble teams, and to be honest, we were probably one of last four to six teams picked,” said Jarvis. “As of last Thursday, it was a very long week. I was trying to see what other teams were doing. It's tough enough figuring out what one team was doing, but I was following 20.”
Arkansas too tough for field
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/1994
The outlook: OK, Massachusetts fans, the good news is that your team is good enough to go to the Final Four. The bad news is that the NCAA Tournament committee didn't move the Minutemen far enough West.
UMass got a second seed, which is what coach John Calipari had hoped. The Minutemen also were put in a bracket which can get them to the regional final, although a second-round game against either Saint Louis or Maryland could be dangerous.
The upper half of the UMass bracket doesn't look as tough, although who can tell when you are talking Michigan.
The Wolverines play Pepperdine in Round 1. They should win. They could lose. Round 2 should bring Texas or Western Kentucky. Another iffy situation. Texas has been blowing past people, and Western Kentucky was working on a great season until it blew its conference tournament on its home court.
Still, the Wolverines are talented and experienced enough to get past those two teams, which should set up a nice UMass-Michigan regional semifinal in Dallas. More about that later.
In the top of the bracket, Arkansas, which received its wakeup call with its loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament over the weekend, should be ready to tear some people apart. The Razorbacks can get to Dallas by winning their second-round game over the Illinois-Georgetown victor.
The other half of the draw has a bunch of wannabes. UCLA doesn't look tough enough; Oklahoma State doesn't look good enough.
Which means Arkansas is in Dallas and that means the lights are out. The Hogs love Dallas. So do their fans, who treated Reunion Arena as a home court when Arkansas was in the Southwest Conference.
So we have Arkansas and, for the sake of argument, Tulsa coming to Dallas along with Michigan and UMass.
This is where the Minutemen run into trouble. As good as they are, they will have to go all out to beat Michigan, which will be playing with total concentration now that a season is on the line.
If the Minutemen manage to win that, they will have to come back two days later and face an Arkansas team that has had tougher times in an intrasquad scrimmage. And they will be playing in Reunion Arena, which will be filled with 16,000 Hog Heads, and probably the President of the United States.
Even if things go its way and UMass makes it to Dallas and Michigan doesn't, the Minutemen might draw Texas – in Dallas. Although the Longhorn fans are more likely to ask to pass the Grey Poupon then do some wild cheers, it will be a tough crowd.
UMass is good. Very good. But the bottom line for coach Cal and the boys will be wait until next year. Arkansas is better.
Of course, if the Minutemen can arrange an Arkansas upset, all bets are off and reservations to the Final Four in Charlotte will be gladly accepted.
Upset special: Western Kentucky over Texas.
Teams to watch: UMass, Oklahoma State.
Moving to Dallas: Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Michigan, UMass.
Regional champ: Arkansas.
Minuteman Roe is board-certified
Tireless worker makes rebounding a specialty
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/15/1994
To him, it was like a morsel to a mortal who hadn't eaten in days, a million-dollar lottery ticket parked at the foot of the homeless. A misfired basketball bounced high off the front rim. Lou Roe had to have it. No two ways about it.
On the previous possessions, the University of Massachusetts superpower forward looked meek against North Carolina's front line. They'd blocked his shot. They beat him to the boards. They manhandled his squad as everyone said they would. The 6-foot-7-inch, 215-pound junior became angry as hell and didn't want to take it anymore. One thing could bridge the gap between being mad and getting even. And it was bouncing high off the rim.
Sandwiched between two 7-footers totaling 500 pounds, Roe blasts off the floor, yanks the ball out of the air with one hand and smothers it with both. Then he returns skyward, scoring on a bank shot over the 7-footers. His adrenaline level reaches flood stage.
Gotta to have the ball again. Outta my way.
He breaks free from a forward on the pick-and-roll and after receiving a pass he scores over one of the 7-footers.
Again! Give it here!
He posts up down low with his back to the basket. Hauls in a pass. Bumps one 7-footer back a step with his rear end. And when another rushes over to double-team, he shoots over both. Again! Nails a turnaround jumper while falling backward. Again! Rebounds a miss, and with a 6-7 player atop his back, he leaps high and banks the ball in while being fouled.
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” yells Roe, hollering, grimacing, swinging fists in the air. North Carolina players stood on the court with question marks hovering above their heads. What happened to the kid they had just put in his place a few possessions ago?
He never returned. The fella who took his place spent the rest of the evening outscoring and outrebounding the Tar Heels and punching out the invisible man. His rage-sparked play led him to 28 points and 14 rebounds and helped UMass upset what was the No. 1 team in the country.
When the final buzzer sounded, a national television audience saw what Atlantic 10 followers have known for years: When Roe turns on the intensity, he's as good as any major college player in the country, and few, if any, players can singlehandedly prevent him from taking over a game.
Roe has arms like Atlas and a wingspan like the Concorde. His horsepower rivals a Chevy Blazer. Yet take away his relentlessness and desire, and he's just another ballplayer with a sculpted body.
“Lou Roe is one heck of a player,” says North Carolina coach Dean Smith. “He came out and stuck it to us on the boards.”
Saving some of his best performances for big games, Roe practically duplicated the Carolina output against Kentucky, tallying 28 points and 13 rebounds against the seventh-ranked Wildcats. He had 30 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks against Maryland. Roe finished the regular season averaging 18.6 points and 8.3 rebounds and is one of 15 finalists for Player of the Year.
“The way I feel right now, if anybody in this country plays me one on one, it's going to be difficult to stop me,” says Roe, constantly the target of double- and triple-teams. “That's how confident you have to be when you want to be a great player. It's not being cocky. It's just having confidence in yourself.
“When I play against people, I want them to look at me and say, 'This guy is crazy,' and think twice about guarding me. That's the satisfaction I get, when I know another player has some fear in playing against me.”
Roe has scored 20 points or more 19 times this season. But his prowess is rebounding. In or out of position, double- or triple-teamed, he will find a way to get to the basketball.
“It's just an instinctive thing to me,” he says. “Ever since my first organized game, I just go after the ball. I don't know what it is. It's not something I think about. It just happens. I just go after the ball.
“A lot of people say, 'What do you do about rebounding?' I don't do anything. I didn't realize how important it was until I came to college, and I averaged 15 rebounds a game in high school.”
College coaches realized it when they saw Roe's numbers at Atlantic City High School, where as a senior he was the state's player of the year. He also averaged 26.2 points a game and finished as the career scoring leader for a team whose graduates include former Pittsburgh standout Bobby Martin (Roe's cousin) and former St. John's standout Willie Glass.
“Lou Roe's a warrior,” says UMass coach John Calipari, who in signing Roe got his first top-40 recruit. “He is an awesome rebounder, one of the best in America. He's a great competitor, loyal to his teammates, and the greatest thing about him right now is that he's hungry. He's on a mission.”
“When I chose UMass, people were asking me, 'Are they Division 1? You're going to turn down Syracuse and Florida State? You must be crazy,'” says Roe. “I talked to my mother about it, and she said, 'If you feel good about it, don't worry what other people say.' ”
He's hardly worrying now.
The residents of Atlantic City often refer to their town by its initials, AC. Ditto for its housing developments; SHV is the Stanley Home Village apartments; VAC is Virginia Avenue Courts. Roe spent much of his youth growing up in CHV – Chelsea Heights Village, a complex just down the street from Bally's Grand Casino.
“It was a nice place,” says Roe, whose family now lives in Brigantine, a quiet suburb along the shore filled with attractive two-story beach houses. “I had a couple of my friends out there who played on my high school team with me. We used to go around bragging that we had the best basketball talent in AC. We had the best 2-guard, forward and point guard in the city.”
Thoughts of dominating in AC bring a smile across Roe's face. But there are some things he'd like to forget. One day when he was 15 years old, Roe and some of his friends were playing around VAC when a friend named Mack and another youth got into a heated argument. In the middle of the dispute, the latter ran home and returned with his brother. The argument resumed.
One of the brothers took a swing at Mack and made contact. Then the brothers turned and ran. Mack chased for about 10 seconds, then fell to the ground, creating a puddle of blood that quickly turned into a pool.
“It happened so fast, I couldn't even see it,” says Roe. “It looked like he just punched him in his back, but he actually stabbed him. He was unconscious because he was bleeding badly. One of the guys named Frank picked him up and tried to take him to his house, but you know how when people are dead, they're heavy. So they called the ambulance and called his mother out.
“When the ambulance got there, they revived him and he was alive. He went to the hospital and everybody though he was going to be OK. We found out the next morning he had died. They said he died because he was bleeding inside.”
Roe takes a long, hard sigh, then says, “It was crazy.”
As a kid, Roe says, he “used to get into a lot of trouble. I was a knucklehead, boy.” But as he got older, he saw enough chaos and violence in the streets to know they were no place to focus his passions.
“A lot of things I saw on the streets did it for me,” said Roe in a Basketball Times article. “It didn't really feel comfortable for me. I witnessed shootings, people getting beat up, and it was a lot of my friends doing stuff like that. I never really felt comfortable in that type of atmosphere.”
Roe instead found his comfort on the playing field, where he learned to channel his aggression into his play, often making the opposition uncomfortable and teammates more confident.
Early on, Roe set his sights on football. Then one day, the junior high basketball coach asked him to join the club for a game that evening. No tryout, just show up.
“I didn't know what I was doing, but I got game most valuable player,” says Roe. “Next day they posted up on the billboard at school that I got MVP. All I remember is that I played a lot of minutes.”
Roe's interest in the game skyrocketed, and soon his mother noticed that he wasn't coming directly home after school.
“You used to be able to set your watch by him,” says Madeline Roe, a dietician at Atlantic City Hospital. “You could hear him a mile away making a sound like a bird while walking. People would say, 'That's Louis.'
“Then one afternoon he didn't come straight home. I was worried, pacing the floor, thinking something had happened to him. Finally he came in and said he was just out playing basketball. It was then I knew how interested he was.”
A BLOSSOMING STAR
While others at AC High toyed with weights, Roe began a daily regimen of pushups, sit-ups and calf raises, and his thin body filled out.
“He was a frail, skinny kind of guy as a sophomore,” says AC High coach Joe Fussner. “He went to Five-Star camp and it woke him up. He saw the bodies on those guys and he came back here and he would stay in the weight room with the football guys.”
Roe once separated his right shoulder while playing football in the snow, and though he was naturally righthanded, he learned how to rebound and block shots with his left hand.
“If you ever watch him, he can rebound well with the opposite hand, and I think that fools people,” says Fussner. “He's strong with it, and he gets his claw around it and he's tough to stop.”
“We helped with his positioning,” says Lloyd Barksdale, Roe's junior varsity coach, “but the greatest thing with Louis is his desire to rebound. He just wanted the ball.”
Roe's desire, his build and his ability to play with both hands helped him become an exceptional low-post player at AC High. He finished with 1,804 career points, 802 career rebounds and three career broken backboards, including two on collapsible rims.
“The thing was, he was not deliberately trying to break them,” says Fussner. “I can remember a year or two ago when the guys were working out during the summer. Lou drove to the basket on a routine dunk and came down on it so hard the whole glass just popped out. He's why we've got collapsible rims at AC High now. We call them the Lou Roe rims.”
Roe realizes that if he is to play at the next level, it will likely be as a shooting forward. He spent his days last summer working at a Coca-Cola plant in Philadelphia, then worked five nights a week on his jump shot with summer league coach John Harinett. Although he hasn't taken many shots from outside this season, he hit six jumpers and two 3-point baskets in a win over Towson State.
At one point this season, Roe was not at the top of his game. Calipari benched him against Rhode Island for lackluster play.
“It felt funny, being on the bench at the start of the game after starting for two years,” he says. “I let my team down and I let myself down. After the game, I got in the gym late at night and did what I did in Philly to get myself focused on playing aggressive basketball.”
In the next game, he led the Minutemen with 15 points against Florida State, and then came his effort against Kentucky.
“I just feel when I'm at the top of my game, I'm feeling confident and I feel my teammates feel confident also,” said Roe. “I'm an inspiration to them. When they see me go off, they feed off it. They say, 'Hey, if this guy's not scared, I'm not going to be scared, either.' ”
Ready to rumble
Southwest Texas isn't intimidated
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/16/1994
Russell Ponds says he is ready. He's got his bags packed and is eager to head to Wichita, where he and his Southwest Texas State teammates will find a University of Massachusetts team that is just as eager.
The first and second rounds in the NCAA tournament can create strange matchups, which is the most charitable description for tomorrow's Midwest Regional opening-rounder between second-seeded UMass and 15th-seeded Southwest Texas State.
“We don't know a lot about them,” said Ponds, a 6-foot senior point guard from Tulsa, Okla., who helped the Bobcats to a 25-6 record and an NCAA berth via their victory in the Southland Conference tournament. “But from reading the scouting reports, they play good defense and rebound pretty well. Those are our strengths.”
Ponds, the Bobcats' second-leading scorer with a 13.5-point average, says he is not in awe of the Minutemen's gaudy record or growing reputation.
“We're not going to back down from anybody,” he said. “But we're a pretty good team. We've gotten things going in the last month.”
That they have. After staggering through the early part of the season, losing three of four games, the Bobcats come into the tournament on a 10-game winning streak, as well as being winners of 20 of 22.
“The chemistry on the team changed in the middle of the season,” said Ponds, one of three senior starters. “We all sort of came together in our games.”
Southwest Texas State is new to big-time basketball. The school, located in San Marcos, Texas (about a 4 1/2-hour drive south of Dallas), has been playing Division 1 basketball only since 1984. This is its first NCAA appearance.
“There has been a lot of partying going on around here,” said Ponds. “Ever since we knew we were going to get the bid, we just kind of wondered who we would be playing.”
Not that it mattered to the student body. Southwest Texas State has always been known as a party school. Even though it is spring break and many students are down at Padre Island on the Texas coast, the atmosphere on campus the past few days has been festive.
Like the rest of his team, coach Jim Wooldridge didn't know a lot about UMass, other than what he had seen on television and read in the papers. Beginning Sunday night, he started breaking down tapes and going over scouting reports.
“We want to show that we belong in the tournament, too,” said Wooldridge, a Boston native.
Southwest Texas State has shown that, with a style of play very similar to that of UMass. Ponds is the designated 3-point shooter, while the leading scorer is 6-foot-4-inch, 195-pound Lynwood Wade, with an 18.6-point average.
“We'll come after you,” said Ponds. “That's been our style all year.”
The Bobcats' level of competition is nowhere near that faced by UMass. Their only major Division 1 opponent was Kansas State (a 1-point loss in December).
But as Ponds said, “Nothing is impossible. I think you've seen this year especially that anything can happen.”
Even while idle, UMass revved up
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/17/1994
WICHITA, Kan. – It was early Monday evening, less than 24 hours before the flagship university from western Massachusetts would invade southeast Kansas to play Southwest Texas State in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.
The head coach thought back to the same time last season, when his team entered the NCAA Tournament as third seed but nearly lost to the 14th seed in the first round and got routed by the sixth seed in the second.
“I probably made a mistake last year; I let them off Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the tournament, and I never got them back,” said University of Massachusetts coach John Calipari, whose second-seeded and eighth-ranked team meets 15th-seeded Southwest Texas in the first round this afternoon. “This year I let them off on Friday, but we lifted and practiced on Saturday and did individual workouts on Sunday. We had a good workout Monday, so I'm pleased.”
The Minutemen seem to be continuing the trend now that they've arrived in the Flatland of America. Yesterday's practice, which was open to the public, was so spirited that UMass received a round of applause when it left the floor.
“We're playing good basketball right now. We're playing with intensity, passion, enthusiasm,” said Calipari. “Our chemistry is good. I don't know if we've played any better basketball in my six years at UMass as we have the last two weeks.
“We want to advance, and I think we are capable of advancing. We also know that it takes a little bit of luck. We've had a great season, but we're going to be judged on how we do in this tournament.”
This marks the third consecutive season the Minutemen have advanced to the tournament. Two seasons ago, they were pleased just to be in, then advanced to the Sweet 16. Last season they talked about improving on that, yet hardly played well enough to do so.
“Last year some people didn't have their priorities straight, going out a little too much, and as a result, we were tired,” said guard Derek Kellogg. “I think we're in a little bit better shape because of our preseason workouts and lifting.”
The regional site, although three blocks south of the middle of nowhere, should probably help the Minutemen as well. “This year is a little more isolated,” said Kellogg.
“Last year the guys knew people in Syracuse and went to visit them and did some things other than basketball. This year we're concentrating solely on basketball, and that's going to pay off in the long run.”
Like UMass, Southwest Texas (25-6) is tough, scrappy and small. “I hear they score as many points as we do. They basically match up the same, except they play three-guard offense,” said UMass forward Lou Roe.
“I don't know how we're going to do against that because we've never played against a three-guard offense. Whether they change their role or we change ours, we have to see tomorrow.”
UMass forward Donta Bright (10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) was not hampered yesterday while playing with an injured right thumb. Bright separated a tendon from the bone in his thumb during the first half March 6 against St. Joseph's but has not missed any time . . . UMass forward Rigoberto Nunez is suffering from pneumonia and did not travel with the team . . . Southwest Texas guard Russell Ponds said his team would not be intimidated by UMass. “We're not backing down from any team in the country,” he said. “The only difference between us and UMass is that they're used to all the attention with ESPN and all, and we're not. We fear no one. You have two teams battling for something; both want the same thing.” . . . This marks the first time Southwest Texas State has played a New England school since the 1990-91 season, when it defeated Maine, 89-88.
UMass shakes off lethargy and Southwest Texas St.
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/18/1994
WICHITA, Kan. – They appeared a step slow and somewhat jittery early in the first half, yet still jumped out to a 7-point lead. It figured that once the University of Massachusetts got into the flow of its offense and stepped up its intensity, the Minutemen would dispose of Southwest Texas State like a losing lottery ticket.
Yet for much of yesterday's NCAA Midwest Regional first-round game, UMass was still waiting for that big run. Southwest Texas kept coming, despite several 3-point baskets and turnover-yielding Minutemen presses that led to quick buckets.
It wasn't until the last eight minutes that UMass pulled away for good. When the final buzzer sounded, signaling the Minutemen's 78-60 win, it seemed they were relieved to be rid of their opening opponent.
“If you saw, we had a couple kids sick on the sidelines; I think we had nervous energy that wore us down,” said UMass coach John Calipari, referring in part to center Marcus Camby and forward Dana Dingle, who vomited on the sideline during the game.
“If you've ever been in a big match, the night before or the day of the game, you lose so much energy worrying about the game,” Calipari added. “You have to understand, in our top eight, we have four first-year college players who have never played in an NCAA Tournament game. That was a little bit too much for them tonight.”
With the win, UMass (28-6) advances to tomorrow's second round to face Maryland (a 74-66 winner over Saint Louis) for the second time this season. UMass won their regular-season matchup, 94-80, Maryland's most lopsided loss of the season.
There appeared little doubt the eighth-ranked Minutemen would advance. Yet the game's final tally hardly indicated the trouble UMass had with a team that at times seemed one outside shooter away from matching the Minutemen basket for basket.
Both teams shot poorly in the first half (UMass 34 percent, Southwest Texas 35). UMass went ahead, 28-14, on a 3-point basket by Mike Williams (20 points) with 6:17 left.
But Southwest Texas (25-7), which also complained of first-round jitters, spent the next four minutes whittling away and with 2:15 to go pulled to 32-25 on a bucket by Dejuan Brown. Williams gave UMass a boost to end the half, hitting two 3-point baskets in the last minute for a 39-25 lead.
Williams' points nullified an exceptional defensive effort by the quick Southwest Texas interior players, who frustrated UMass forward Lou Roe, blocking several of his attempts while holding him to 5 points (1-for-6 shooting in the first half).
“They did a good job on us defensively inside,” said Roe, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “They had more blocks on me than any team's had all year.”
“I was really impressed with Southwest Texas' aggressive play; they never backed down,” said Calipari. “Every time I thought we were going to break the game open, they made another run. I haven't seen another team attack us inside like that since we played Kentucky.”
In the second half, UMass improved to 62 percent shooting. Leading, 39-25, at halftime, the Minutemen outscored the Bobcats, 13-2, to start the second half for a 45-27 lead with 17:51 remaining in the game.
Then Southwest Texas rallied. Center Mike Ross scored 4 of his 8 points during a 10-4 run that pulled the Bobcats to 47-37 with 13:47 left. With 7:58 left, forward Lynwood Wade (a team-high 17 points) hit two free throws to pull the Bobcats within 56-47.
“I felt that if we kept it under 10 points at the 10-minute mark, we had a chance,” said Southwest Texas coach Jim Wooldridge.
But the Bobcats' chances were dashed over the last 8:00. Roe took command; with 6:52 left, he hit a 12-foot baseline jumper to put the Minutemen up, 60-47. He wound up with 12 of UMass' last 20 points.
Hampered by UMass' defensive pressure, Southwest Texas scored consecutive baskets once over the last eight minutes. “After we got going, we were good,” said Calipari. “I was just happy Lou got going.”
UMass wins the struggle
SW Texas State no pushover
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/18/1994
WICHITA, Kan. – Somebody's got to devise a way to hook a polygraph up to a box score.
Those suckers can tell whoppers.
The Massachusetts-Southwest Texas State box score is a good place to start. You look at this, you might think Lou Roe had a good game. The man had 21 points in 28 minutes, which isn't bad for an NCAA Tournament game. That total reflects some garbage-time padding. The fact is that Lou Roe was humbled by a team he probably never heard of a week ago. This is a truly great college player who is probably very happy his next opponent will be an Atlantic Coast Conference team instead of this who-the-heck-are-they? bunch from the Texas hill country.
All of which goes to prove why the NCAA Tournament is such a spectator treat. There are all these teams out there in the Great Beyond just waiting to show us what they've got. They don't even have to win the game in order to make their point. Yeah, No. 2 seed UMass advanced to the second round with a 78-60 triumph over 15th seed Southwest Texas State, but there was nothing ordinary about it.
UMass has played North Carolina, Kansas, Cincinnati, De Paul, Florida State, Kentucky, Temple, George Washington and West Virginia this year, but none of those teams did to the Minutemen what Lyndon Johnson's alma mater did to them. The Southland Conference champs took a significant number of UMass shots and threw them back into the nearby Big Arkansas River. Going into yesterday's game, the most blocks an opponent had against the Minutemen was six. The Bobcats said, “Get that weak junk out of here,” an official eight times (it felt more like 28) and changed a few more. No one was more baffled by the experience than Mr. Roe, among whose credentials for All-America status this season were a combined 56 points and 27 rebounds against North Carolina and Kentucky.
“They were one of the most physical and athletic teams we played all year,” lauded Roe. “They were very aggressive down low. Basically, what teams try to do is manhandle us on the box. But the weight training has been good to us. We hold our own down there.”
Well, yes and no, Lou. You eventually got some decent work done, but not before smartening up a little.
“They were physical,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “And Lou let his frustration show. He let it get to him mentally. His first reaction was, 'Hey, what's going on?' But the good news is that he figured it all out. He started moving along the baseline to get himself free and he forgot about the sumo wrestling in the post.”
One of the lessons drawn from this first-round game was just how large a role luck plays in determining who advances and who doesn't. Give Team X the proper matchup and you might be reading about one of those inspirational 15-over-2 upsets this tournament spits out every once in a while.
The fact is that Southwest Texas State is a lot better team than any Yankee would realize, and that given the proper set of circumstances, it might very well have hung an embarrassing L on some smarty-pants team from a major conference instead of heading home with an 18-point loss. The Bobcats' problem is they could hardly have picked a worse opponent, stylewise, than UMass.
Southwest Texas State has some young men with giddy-up in their legs. We are talking about serious cases of The Hops. Again, think of what happened to Lou Roe.
“He's going to be in the NBA someday,” reminded Calipari. “And they knocked three of his shots right to his own feet. I've never seen that. Lou looked over at me. I said, 'I don't know, son. Maybe you should try to dunk it.' ”
While this was going on at one end, a similar thing was going on at the other. Southwest is used to having its own way inside against its normal foes. Now it was undergoing athletic cultural shock of its own. For the first 10 minutes or so, it was as if the Bobcats had left their inside game back in San Marcos.
“We like to get the ball inside and then back out,” pointed out Bobcat guard Russell Ponds. “They wouldn't let us get the ball inside.”
“All our troubles offensively you can credit to their defense,” agreed coach Jim Wooldridge. “We have not seen a defense like that, with its physical nature. We didn't handle it well.”
The UMass pressure did cause major problems for Southwest. But there are plenty of high-ranked teams out there who don't pressure the way UMass does and whose backs would have served as sufficient launching pads for some Southwest rebound attempts. It just so happens that one of the key UMass strengths is its own up-down, up-down second- and third-chance rebound efforts, not to mention its own shot-blocking ability. This was a battle of frontcourt athletic equals.
Note that UMass was impressed with Southwest's muscle and jumping ability and that Southwest was impressed with UMass'. Then consider what Southwest could do against teams that are vulnerable inside. The Bobcats could have beaten up inside on Saint Louis, for example. They would have posed a major headache for Boston College. If you want to talk about high-seed teams, the Bobcats could have done some damage to Arizona, just to name one.
The very suggestion threw Wooldridge, who did not come here intending to fill up notebooks with controversial statements. “I just thought if we could handle their pressure and play good enough defense against that type of team, we'd have a chance,” he said. “I don't know that I can compare them at this point to another high-ranked team.”
So let Calipari say it for him.
“They were fearless,” declared Coach Cal. “They were the aggressors. Fortunately, we played very good defense against them.”
So UMass goes on and Southwest goes home. It's in the books: the favored Minutemen by 18. Such prevarication. The Bobcats didn't get a W, but they did get respect.