Virginia Tech taking its shot at UMass
UMass' unbeaten streak on line at Virginia Tech
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/17/1996
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Here, in the unofficial tractor-trailer capital of the Western Hemisphere, folks are eager to see the No. 1 college basketball team in the nation. How eager? Tickets for today's noon game between No. 1 Massachusetts and No. 10 Virginia Tech went on sale Feb. 12.
The line for tickets began forming Feb. 5.
Virginia Tech officials said more than 120 tents sprouted up outside the ticket office as students camped out in shifts between classes. Tickets went on sale at 9 a.m. last Monday. The game was sold out at 10:43 a.m.
“They've said it's the biggest game in the history of their school; they've said it, not me,” said UMass coach John Calipari, whose Minutemen prepared yesterday for what is easily the most anticipated Atlantic 10 matchup of the season.
For UMass (24-0, 12-0), this will be another in a string of Top 10 challengers – including then No. 1 Kentucky, then No. 10 Wake Forest and then No. 3 Memphis.
“The league gave Virginia Tech five days to prepare for us,” said Calipari after his team's 70-53 win over La Salle Thursday night. “The great thing about college basketball is that comparative scoring doesn't matter. All I know is that every big game we've had to play, we play. Every game has been the other team's greatest game. I just hope we can go in there, fight like heck and see what happens.”
The game has all the makings of a slugfest. The Hokies (19-2, 10-1, 17 consecutive wins at home) closely resemble Calipari's earlier NCAA tournament teams: undersized but more than capable of compensating with experience, depth and hustle.
Last season's National Invitation Tournament champ starts four seniors and one junior and goes 10 deep. The Hokies have three players with 1,000 career points, headed by junior forward Ace Custis (14.2 points per game), who leads the league in rebounding (9.9 per game) and is second in field goal shooting (53 percent).
No. 2 scorer Damon Watlington (13.6) is a clutch outside shooter; in the Hokies' 56-53 win over Liberty Tuesday, he hit three 3-pointers in the second half to help rally Tech from an 11-point deficit.
Tech is one of the toughest defensive teams the Minutemen will face. Like UMass, the Hokies pressure chest to chest on the perimeter, where they have limited opponents to 30 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc.
Undoubtedly, Tech's most glaring weakness is its lack of height. Its tallest players – starting center Travis Jackson and reserve center Keefe Matthews – are both 6 feet 8 inches. That could pose problems in defending A- 10 scoring leader Marcus Camby (6-11), although Jackson could try using his weight advantage (242 pounds to Camby's 220) to neutralize UMass' star center.
That could prove one of the more interesting matchups of the day; ditto Custis against UMass' defensive stopper, senior forward Dana Dingle. “We found out what type of players they got and we just have to go out and play UMass basketball,” said Dingle. “We need to defend and rebound.” Both teams are coming off scares – Tech against Liberty, UMass against La Salle, which owned a 10-point lead early in the second half. Camby had one of his better performances on the glass, with 15 boards. He also tallied a game-high 26 points and blocked three shots.
“That's the best I've seen him rebound since he's been here,” said Calipari. “I hope that sets a tone where he just goes and gets it done. In the second half, he was the force he needed to be.”
Thursday's win marked the sixth time in seven games the Minutemen have held their opponents under 60 points. That will come in handy against Tech, which averages 72.5.
UMass: Another Top 10 hit
Minutemen rise to challenge
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/18/1996
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Match them up against La Salle or Fordham or Duquesne or the New England Tractor Trailer School, and they will struggle and blunder and make the game closer than it needs to be – before winning in dramatic fashion.
But when the No. 1 University of Massachusetts takes the floor against a formidable opponent, things change. The game becomes a Minuteman talent show, an exceptional display of skills at both ends of the floor, and an opponent that looked good on paper finds its hopes of notching a win dashed early.
Perhaps that's why UMass' only loss came against a Converse All-Star team in preseason. Yesterday, No. 10 Virginia Tech became the seventh Top 25 team, and fourth Top 10 squad, to fall to the Minutemen this season. The Hokies (19-3, 10-2), thought to be one of UMass' biggest regular-season roadblocks, absorbed a 74-58 Atlantic 10 defeat – their first home setback in 18 games and their second-worst loss in the 1990s.
The Minutemen (25-0, 13-0) were in control from the opening tip, trailing only once, 10-9, with 16:47 remaining. Marcus Camby had one of his best performances – registering game highs of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks – and teammate Donta Bright added 19 points to lead UMass, which shot 56 percent from the floor.
“I felt really good going into the game,” said Camby, who scored on soft jumpers when Tech guarded man-to-man, then dished off to teammates when he was double-teamed. “They kept trying to play me one-on-one, so I just kept hitting shots.”
Defensively, forward Dana Dingle shut down Ace Custis, Virginia Tech's leading scorer and the A-10's leading rebounder. Custis finished with 7 points (half his average) and six boards (four below his average).
“I had a couple of easy shots, but I wasn't knocking my shots down,” said Custis. “A couple of times I got fouled and it wasn't called, but that's the game of basketball. I had the shots, but I didn't hit them. It just wasn't my day.”
Bright said that was due in large part to Dingle. “I think Dana showed everyone what a great defensive player he is,” said Bright.
The Minutemen hardly resembled the team that suffered lapses against Fordham, La Salle and Duquesne, which are a combined 19-48.
UMass exploited Virginia Tech's primary weakness – its lack of height and quickness inside. Camby and Bright made tough shots look easy. The Minutemen held Tech to 29 percent shooting in the second half; only guard Damon Watlington (17 points on 6-for-13 shooting) fared well against UMass' trademark chest-to-chest pressure.
“These guys were really ready to play today,” said guard Edgar Padilla. ''We needed a game like this because we've had a lot of games where everyone expected us to win by 30, and those games it's hard for us to get ready to play because we know who's going to win.
“Today, coming into this gym, with them being undefeated here and being in the top 10, pumped us up. And a lot of things they said in the paper, Coach John Calipari showed to us and it pumped us up.”
UMass led by as many as 7 in the first half and had a 33-28 advantage at halftime. The Minutemen held the Hokies at bay through the second half and led, 56-44, with 4:45 to go. Tech closed the gap to 8 on a 4-point play by guard Troy Manns, who was fouled on a 3-point basket by Padilla.
But Padilla redeemed himself with a 3-point basket, Camby scored on a layup and Dingle hit two free throws, increasing the margin to 63-48 with 3:18 to go.
“When we cut it to 8, we decided to go down and double Marcus and he kicked it out to Padilla, and he hit the 3,” said Custis. “That was the dagger in the heart.”
After the game, Calipari was asked if he was concerned that his team had lost its competitive edge of late because of its showings against weaker teams. “What did you see today? Did it look like that today? Did you see our Temple games?” responded Calipari, whose squad is four games from regular- season perfection. “We're fine. We're doing OK.”
Dingle's defense keeps Va. Tech's Ace in a hole
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/18/1996
BLACKSBURG, Va. – On Friday night, Dana Dingle had no interest in getting into a conversation about Virginia Tech standout Ace Custis. “What are you guys bringing him up for? I don't want to talk about him,” said the Massachusetts forward after practice.
After the Minutemen's win over Tech, Custis probably didn't want to hear about Dingle. The senior from the Bronx fulfilled his role as designated stopper with a solid performance against one of the most underrated power forwards in college basketball.
Custis entered the game averaging 14.2 points and had scored in double figures in five of his last six games. But Dingle held Custis to his third- lowest point total of the season – 7 on 3-for-13 shooting. He also held the Atlantic 10's leading rebounder to six boards, four below his average.
“I've seen tapes of him, and he's a regular small forward that I go up against every day,” said Dingle, who regularly draws his team's toughest defensive assignment – be it guard or forward.
“He's probably a better post player than most of the guys I go against, but I've played against top forwards, top guards game in and game out. So he's no different.”
Dingle's ability to play at various positions (he played center at St. Raymond's High School and shooting guard during some stretches last season) makes him the Minutemen's most versatile defender.
“We challenged him going into yesterday's game,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “Ace is about as good a forward as we've played, so we told Dana this would see how good he was, and he did well.”
Dingle fronted Custis offensively and prevented him from getting good position inside. “I think I probably frustrated him most by not letting him catch the ball in the post, where he likes it, easily,” said Dingle. “I just fought around him and made him work and work and work until he was tired.
“I don't know if he was wearing down, but he wasn't having easy looks and their guards didn't want to just force it in there because it would have been a steal or a bad shot like a fadeaway jumper, where he wouldn't have been comfortable.”
That prevented Virginia Tech from establishing an inside game, which already had been limited by the presence of Marcus Camby (five blocks).
“The game was decided in the paint,” said Tech coach Bill Foster. “You won't see many days that Ace Custis goes 3 for 13. If we played again tomorrow, he might go 9 for 13 and we would be right in the game.”
PRAISE FROM A PEER
Custis on Camby: “I don't think there's any doubt that he's the best player in college basketball.” . . . Tech had no foul shots in the first half . . . Although much of the attention goes to Custis, Tech guard Damon Watlington was the team's best scoring threat yesterday, frustrating Carmelo Travieso by running off screens for pull-up jumpers. “Carmelo knew he didn't have a good game against him,” said Calipari. “After the game, he said, 'What did Watlington have, 25 points?' I said, 'No, but he had a good 17.' ”
UMass makes a believer out of Virginia Tech
By John Feinstein, Sports Illustrated, 2/26/1996
Coach John Calipari calls it “the golden, 400-pound bull's-eye.” For the past month, ever since Massachusetts became major college basketball's last remaining unbeaten team, his Minutemen have carried the imaginary bull's-eye with them to every game.
“We like it,” Calipari says. “You see, we think the pressure is on the other team because they're going to have to play great for 40 minutes to beat us. They know that, and we know that. So what we try to do every night is take the bull's-eye, hand it over to the other guys and say, 'Here, you hold this for a couple of hours.'”
The UMass bull's-eye has never loomed as large as it did last Saturday in Blacksburg, Va., where the top-ranked Minutemen faced 10th-ranked Virginia Tech in what was arguably the biggest game in the 35-year history of Cassell Coliseum. Tech had won 17 straight games in Cassell, an old barn of a place whose seating is so steeply banked that a sellout crowd of 10,052 looks and sounds twice that size. Revved-up Hokies fans were saying their team was ready to snap the UMass streak.
Virginia Tech trailed just 56-48 with 4:33 left, despite a Marcus Camby masterpiece (31 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks). But over the next 1:15, UMass scored seven consecutive points, and the rout was on. Final score: Massachusetts 74, Tech 58.
The Minutemen improved to 25-0 (while dropping the Hokies to 19-3). At week's end they needed just four more victories to become only the fourth Division I team in the last 20 years to finish the regular season undefeated. But more than a few people argue that UMass would be better off if it lost a game before the start of postseason play.
Nevada-Las Vegas was the last team to reach the NCAA tournament unbeaten in 1991. The Runnin' Rebels were the defending national champions, and they rolled through 34 games without so much as a scare. Their first tight game was in the national semifinals against Duke, and they couldn't handle it, blowing a five-point lead with 2:31 to play and falling to the Blue Devils 79-77.
Jerry Tarkanian, who coached that UNLV team, thinks his team would have benefited from a pretournament loss. “The biggest problem with the win streak is that the pressure mounts with every win,” says Tarkanian, now the coach at Fresno State. “We destroyed everybody all year, and it got to the point where it was hard to get the players up. Even Duke. We had beaten them by 30 the year before. It's easier to get a team back down to earth if it's been humbled once.”
The Minutemen haven't been humbled, but they have been scared. They trailed Maryland by 16 in the first half before winning by three. Against Memphis they squandered a 16-point lead and fell behind late in the game before winning by three. They needed overtime to beat St. Joseph's, Pittsburgh and Xavier.
“People keep saying they shouldn't be Number 1 because they're in the Atlantic-10 and they keep playing those close games,” Virginia Tech coach Bill Foster says. “I've faced five or six Number 1 teams in my career, and they can play with any one of them.”
Camby insists a perfect regular season isn't that important. “Our goal has never been to go undefeated,” he says. “Our goal is to go undefeated in March and April.”
Massachusetts (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Dingle 34 2-4 2-2 1-4 1 1 6 Bright 35 7-10 5-6 0-6 3 3 19 Camby 32 14-22 3-7 0-10 2 2 31 Travieso 36 2-6 5-6 3-5 1 1 9 E Padilla 40 1-4 4-4 0-3 4 3 7 Clarke 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Weeks 15 0-1 0-0 2-5 0 4 0 Cottrell 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Norville 4 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 0 2 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 27-48 19-25 7-34 11 14 74 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.563, Ft-.760. 3-Point Goals: 1-6, .167 (Travieso 0-2, E Padilla 1-4). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Camby 5, E Padilla). Turnovers: 11 (Bright 3, Camby 3, E Padilla 2, Dingle, Norville, Travieso). Steals: 5 (E Padilla 3, Bright, Dingle). Virginia Tech (58) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Custis 40 3-13 1-2 4-8 2 4 7 Smith 35 3-9 6-6 2-4 4 2 12 T Jackson 28 2-8 0-0 3-4 2 4 5 Watlington 35 6-13 3-4 0-0 2 4 17 Good 33 4-8 0-0 1-4 0 2 9 J Jackson 5 1-1 0-1 0-0 0 1 2 T Manns 13 2-5 1-1 0-0 0 1 6 Guillory 5 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Matthews 6 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 3 0 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 21-58 11-14 10-20 10 21 58 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.362, Ft-.786. 3-Point Goals: 5-11, .455 (Smith 0-2, T Jackson 1-2, Watlington 2-3, Good 1-3, T Manns 1-1). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 1 (Custis). Turnovers: 8 (Good 2, Matthews 2, Custis, J Jackson, T Jackson, T Manns). Steals: 6 (Good 3, Matthews, T Jackson, Watlington). __________________________________ Massachusetts 33 41 - 74 Virginia Tech 28 30 - 58 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 10,052. Officials: Gerry Donaghy, John Moreau, Joe Demayo.