Before duel, La Salle is in UMass' way
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/15/1996
The most anticipated Atlantic 10 Conference game of the season is on tap for the University of Massachusetts. But before the No. 1 Minutemen (23-0, 11-0) travel to 10th-ranked Virginia Tech for Saturday's showdown, they host unheralded La Salle (5-18, 2-8) tonight at the Mullins Center.
Once again, the Minutemen must try to keep focused against a lesser opponent before a more celebrated game. Virginia Tech (18-2) had a similar task when it struggled to a 56-53 win over state rival Liberty Tuesday night.
UMass can't overlook a La Salle team that has given Texas Tech, George Washington and Texas-El Paso scares this season. In one week, La Salle lost at the buzzer to St. Joseph's, Xavier and Penn.
“La Salle's playing well right now,” said UMass coach John Calipari before the Explorers' 40-point loss to Villanova Monday night. “They played George Washington close last week. They're a team looking to come in here and beat us if we're not ready to play.”
Although there's been much talk about the UMass-Virginia Tech game all season, UMass-La Salle was drawing attention as early as last summer. That was because of tensions stemming from the recruiting of Lari Ketner, a 6-foot-10- inch power forward from Philadelphia who signed a letter of intent with UMass last spring, then took an official visit to La Salle.
Ketner had been quoted last winter as saying he was 90 percent certain he would attend La Salle. But he signed the letter with UMass and told Minutemen officials not to submit it to the A-10 office until he visited La Salle and Maryland to make certain he had made the right choice.
La Salle found out about Ketner's signing when UMass athletic director Bob Marcum mentioned it to Explorers AD Robert Mullen at an A-10 convention in Naples, Fla.
Although the signing was not a rules violation, La Salle officials cried ethics foul against both Ketner and UMass for not announcing it. La Salle complained to the Atlantic 10 office, and commissioner Linda Bruno straightened out the matter with both athletic directors. Ketner is sitting out this season after failing to meet eligibility requirements.
La Salle coach Speedy Morris said that as far as he's concerned, the matter is no longer an issue. “We can't keep dwelling on that now,” he said. “They have Lari and they are fortunate to have him. I'm sorry it had to happen the way it did. We wished he had told us he signed with them rather than make an official visit two weeks after he already signed. But I've forgotten about it; it's over as far as I'm concerned.”
La Salle is coming off a 90-50 loss to Big 5 foe Villanova, a team Morris felt his squad had a chance to upset because it had been playing well of late. “I don't know if I can be optimistic going into the UMass game after what happened in the Villanova game,” he said.
“We have the 23d-best schedule in the country and we've been in some games against teams like Auburn and Texas Tech. Against Villanova we were never in the game. We couldn't get shots in the first four minutes, and then when we got them, they wouldn't fall.”
Against UMass, Morris is clinging to the belief that anything can happen. “That's why you play the games,” he said. Yet he knows he's in for his second uphill battle of the week.
“They're so talented, and they play so well as a team,” he said. “Their guard tandem is the best in our conference. I've actually watched UMass play about 10 times this year. They're fun to watch. You get no easy shots against them.”
Calipari hopes to get his team prepared for March, a month in which the Minutemen are 25-4 since the 1991-92 season (all of the losses have come in the NCAA tournament).
“Our best teams, whether we use seven or eight guys, always play well come March,” said Calipari. “We gear toward fresh legs and fresh minds. Our practices are shorter now because we're not adding anything. It's a matter of who has the freshest legs and the freshest minds. We've had great strength in March that way.”
UMass picks up in time
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/16/1996
AMHERST – Lately, it's been difficult upholding their motto. The unbeaten, No. 1 University of Massachusetts Minutemen still Refuse to Lose, but they do come perilously close sometimes, particularly when they take the opponent lightly. Save for two blowouts against Atlantic 10 rival Temple, the Minutemen have put together a string of games marked by surprising closeness.
Last night the Minutemen could have been accused of looking past La Salle (5-18 coming in) to tomorrow's showdown against No. 10 Virginia Tech. Coach John Calipari said his team takes one game at a time, but when it trailed La Salle by 8 at halftime, even his thoughts shifted to Blacksburg.
“I said, 'Guys, it's going to be a long flight to Virginia Tech if we lose this game,' ” said Calipari. His team, booed while leaving the court at halftime, rallied to tie the Explorers in the first six minutes of the second half, then held La Salle to 4 points for nearly 11 minutes en route to a 70-53 victory.
In a game that might prompt the Minutemen to change their motto to “Never a Dull Moment,” UMass got 26 points and 15 rebounds from leading scorer Marcus Camby and 19 points from forward Donta Bright. The Minutemen (24-0, 12-0) held La Salle to 36 percent shooting in the second half and forced 10 turnovers after the break.
UMass went ahead, 18-8, with 10:27 left in the first half, but La Salle outscored the Minutemen, 20-2, the rest of the way for a 28-20 halftime lead. La Salle went ahead, 30-20, with 19:40 left in the second half before UMass staged a dramatic rally. Bright scored 7 points in an 11-0 run that put UMass ahead, 31-30, with 17:18 left. La Salle responded with a 3-point play by guard Mike Gizzi to take a 33-31 lead.
Guard Edgar Padilla hit a 3-pointer with 15:42 left to put UMass up, 36-35. But La Salle scored consecutive baskets – including a 3-pointer by Gizzi – to go up, 40-36, with 14:59 left. UMass followed with consecutive baskets – on a tip-in by Camby and a steal and layup by Padilla – to tie the game at 40-40 with 14:00 left.
Then the Minutemen pulled away, rendering the Explorers scoreless on eight consecutive possessions (two of which ended in blocks by Camby). Meanwhile, UMass got 5 points from Bright and 2 apiece from forwards Tyrone Weeks and Dana Dingle to go ahead, 49-40, with 9:11 left. With 7:55 left, Camby sank two free throws, stretching the lead to 53-42.
“One of the things we learned is if we don't come and play, it doesn't matter who it is, they can beat us,” said Calipari, who departed along with the team for Blacksburg via charter after the game. “Sometimes we get caught up in reading the press clippings about how special we are, good we are and unbeatable we are.
“We're unbeatable when we play great defense together and play with all- out intensity. When we do that, we're real good. When we don't, we're just very average.”
At times, UMass was a little bit of both last night. That helped make for a weird night of Mullins Center entertainment. Calipari picked up a rare technical for arguing with the officials with his team ahead, 53-44.
Moments later, someone ran onto the court hoisting a sign that read, “Pat Buchanan Doesn't Care About Us” on one side and “President Bill Weld” on the other. Thorr Bjorn, game operations manager and former UMass football player, dived and tackled the patron at midcourt, then security escorted him out.
“At that point, I didn't know what was going on,” said Camby. “But then I saw Thorr make that tackle.” UMass officials said the patron was former student Martin Jones, who last year staged a hunger strike in protest of the Minutemen nickname.
With the game in hand, UMass can finally turn full attention to tomorrow's matchup. “They said it's the biggest game in the history of their school,” said Calipari. “It's going to be a hard game for us to win, but we're going to go play.”
It's a test and a win for UMass
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 2/16/1996
AMHERST – It is different now for the University of Massachusetts. The Minutemen play each game with a target on their chest instead of a uniform. Zero in. Take your best shot. See if you can beat us.
That's the way it is when you are No. 1 in the country. The school that nobody knew or cared about has changed into something else. Now wherever they go, everyone knows their name.
Last night La Salle certainly knew it for the first 25 minutes. The team that had lost by 40 points to Villanova took an 8-point halftime lead. The Explorers treated UMass like just another also-ran in the Atlantic 10 pack.
Instead of cheers, the Minutemen heard a scattering of boos from the crowd at the Mullins Center that has grown accustomed to seeing them romp. Oh, things turned around eventually, as everyone knew they would in what appeared to be a rather routine 70-53 victory. But the Minutemen fell behind by 10 before they woke up and realized what could happen.
Then it was an awesome sight to behold. Wave after wave of points coming down at La Salle. In a span of 2:15, the Minutemen wiped out the double-digit deficit.
But this was a preview of what remains for the Minutemen this season. No free rides, no easy games. It's going to be that way every game until their season ends.
It will be that way tomorrow afternoon at Virginia Tech and next week against Rhode Island and George Washington and right through the rest of the regular season into the A-10 tournament and the NCAA tournament.
The pressure will increase with each game, building until the Minutemen will hardly know how to deal with it.
We've already seen a little of what the future holds. Friends of John Calipari are now the subject of photo spreads in newspapers. Coach Cal has become America's guest on the airwaves. Last weekend he was the topic of the “Sunday Conversation” piece on ESPN. Today he will be a guest on “Good Morning America.”
Not only will everyone know his name, but everyone will know his face. It's all so heady for the Minutemen and Calipari. They have a bit of a strut in their step now. They cannot go anyplace without being besieged.
It is the world that UCLA, North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky have known for years.
Each game will be critiqued for more than results; style points will be deducted. Example: last week's overtime scare against Xavier.
Just winning is not good enough anymore. The Minutemen have to win with a certain flair. They have to blow people away or people will start questioning how good they really are.
That is foolish, of course. At 24-0, UMass doesn't have to prove anything to anybody. The Minutemen have beaten all comers on all courts.
But none of that counts anymore. That's the way it is when you are No. 1.
It would be different if they were 22-2. People would praise them to the hilt and tell them what a terrific season they were having and speculate about how far they can go in the NCAA tournament.
But they are No. 1 and unbeaten, the only team in Division 1 that can make that claim.
Calipari says winning, not style, is what counts. “I'm OK with this because we won,” he said. “You probably thought I ranted or screamed at halftime. I didn't do it. The players knew what they had to do. I told them that if they didn't win this game, it was going to be a long flight down to Virginia Tech. Go figure out a way to win.”
Which the Minutemen did. As forward Donta Bright said, “We're not worried about nothing.”
Perhaps that is the way to do it. Don't worry about things that might happen until they do.
Calipari says his team knows its limitations and what it can achieve. ''Everybody is saying so many things, about how we're unbeatable. And if we play the way we can, we're a pretty good team. If we don't, we're an average team.”
The Minutemen are more than average. Even on their worst night – and the first half was pretty close to that – they have enough confidence to find a way to do the right thing.
Last night was tough for 30 minutes. Virginia Tech might be tough for 40 minutes.
The Minutemen say they are ready, although they are not worrying about it.
“All I know,” said Calipari, “is that every time we've had a big game, we've been ready to play. We'll be ready against Tech.”
And if they are not, if they come out in a haze and never recover, what then?
“What's the worst that can happen after Saturday?” said Calipari. “We'll be 24-1. And that ain't bad.”
Lasalle (53) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Haywood 40 6-19 0-1 4-8 0 3 13 Flickinger 17 1-5 0-0 1-2 0 1 3 Catlin 24 1-2 0-0 1-4 3 2 2 Gizzi 35 4-12 1-3 0-2 1 2 11 Smith 37 3-6 1-3 0-2 4 2 7 Landgren 22 3-6 0-0 0-1 1 1 8 Fromal 4 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Comey 3 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Melchionni 5 2-4 0-0 0-0 0 2 5 Van Teeseling 13 1-3 2-2 2-4 0 4 4 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 21-58 4-9 8-24 9 17 53 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.362, Ft-.444. 3-Point Goals: 7-23, .304 (Haywood 1-6, Flickinger 1-5, Gizzi 2-4, Smith 0-1, Landgren 2-5, Melchionni 1-2). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Catlin, Landgren). Turnovers: 18 (Catlin 4, Gizzi 4, Smith 4, Van Teeseling 2, Flickinger, Fromal, Haywood, Landgren). Steals: 10 (Gizzi 3, Haywood 3, Comey, Flickinger, Fromal, Van Teeseling). Massachusetts (70) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Dingle 27 4-12 2-3 4-10 1 1 10 Bright 28 7-12 4-6 3-5 2 0 19 Camby 35 12-21 2-4 5-15 4 1 26 E Padilla 36 2-7 0-0 0-2 5 3 5 Travieso 37 2-7 0-0 0-2 0 2 4 Clarke 6 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Burns 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 G Padilla 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 Maclay 1 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Weeks 20 2-2 0-0 3-6 0 3 4 Cottrell 4 0-0 0-0 1-4 0 0 0 Norville 4 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 30-63 8-13 16-45 13 11 70 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.476, Ft-.615. 3-Point Goals: 2-9, .222 (Bright 1-1, E Padilla 1-4, Travieso 0-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 7 (Camby 3, Travieso 2, Weeks, Bright). Turnovers: 19 (Bright 4, Camby 4, Dingle 3, Cottrell 2, E Padilla 2, Weeks 2, Clarke, Travieso). Steals: 9 (Camby 3, E Padilla 2, Bright, Cottrell, Dingle, Travieso). __________________________________ Lasalle 28 25 - 53 Massachusetts 20 50 - 70 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Massachusetts 1 (Head Coach Calipari). A: 9,493. Officials: Jim Haney, David Day, Leroy Hendricks.