UMass hoping it's Ram tough
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/20/1996
If they're tired of all the talk about an undefeated season, now's the time to reach for earplugs. The countdown is on: 25 victories, 4 games to go. The University of Massachusetts Minutemen say they aren't thinking about an unblemished mark. But just about everyone else in college basketball is.
Which of the remaining teams on the slate has the best possibility of handing the Minutemen a loss? Most point to Atlantic 10 foe George Washington, one of the league's most successful teams against UMass. But undoubtedly the Minutemen – who officially remained the No. 1 team when yesterday's Associated Press poll was released – will be tested tonight against Rhode Island (15-8), the second-most-improved team in college basketball this season.
Tonight's matchup is the second between the teams this season. On Jan. 17, URI battled the Minutemen evenly for 40 minutes before suffering a 77-71 loss. UMass forward Donta Bright had a career-high 32 points, but the Minuteman were without Marcus Camby, who had not returned from his Jan. 14 collapse.
Certainly the Minutemen figure to have an easier time with Camby in the lineup, but coach John Calipari – whose team has had some difficulty getting motivated for unheralded opponents – is concerned about the anticipation of a cakewalk.
“Most of the guys in this program have never lost to Rhody, and they probably think we're just going to go down there and beat Rhody,” said Calipari. “This is one of the better Rhody teams, and they have one of the best freshmen in the league in Antonio Reynolds. We know it's going to be a packed house down there, so we have to be ready.”
The Minutemen took a big step toward an unbeaten mark Saturday by handing Virginia Tech its first loss at home in 17 games. Tech, ranked 10th at the time, was considered one of the teams that could knock off the Minutemen, who used such talk as a motivating tool.
In addition to URI and George Washington (Saturday), the Minutemen host St. Joseph's Feb. 28, then close out the season at Louisville March 2. One of the advantages to that schedule is familiarity: three conference foes and a team UMass played last year.
“I think made-for-television games have affected teams going undefeated,” said Calipari. “We used to play teams we didn't know very much about. This year the only teams we didn't know much about were Memphis and Wake Forest. The others we knew a lot about because we play them.”
As his team draws closer to it, Calipari maintains, he is not eyeing an unbeaten mark.
“Our goal is to win the national championship,” he said. “If going undefeated is a byproduct, fine. If we take one on the chin, fine.
“People keep talking about there being a 500-pound weight on our chin. We want to take that weight and put it on the other team. We say, 'Let's make them play a perfect game to beat us.' ”
URI, which starts a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors, is 6-3 since losing to UMass and has improved eight games on last year's 7-20 mark. Only Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo has done better, winning 11 more than it did last year.
“I mentioned to the team about three weeks ago that we could possibly make the NCAA tournament,” said URI coach Al Skinner. “I knew that after we played well in Hawaii in the Rainbow Classic. We've defended well and right now we're playing a good style of basketball.”
The Rams lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring (79 points a game). They have had just one double-figure loss, a 92-66 drubbing against Syracuse. Their first six players average in double figures, led by point guard Tyson Wheeler (16.3 ppg). Reynolds, a forward, is among the leading candidates for Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year.
Skinner said he is not using the last UMass-URI game as a measuring stick for tonight.
“It will be a more difficult game than the first game,” he said. “Camby clearly brings another dimension.”
UMass rejects Rams
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 2/21/1996
PROVIDENCE – When Rhode Island guard Preston Murphy sank a free throw with 1:46 left last night to pull the unranked, unheralded Rams within 1 point of unbeaten, No. 1-ranked Massachusetts, the crowd of 13,106 at the Civic Center disregarded the Minutemen's track record for a moment.
With the screaming crowd thinking upset, the Minutemen thought, “How do we get ourselves out of this jam?” A minute and 44 seconds later, they had the answer, not to mention a 74-69 Atlantic 10 victory that left them 26-0, 14-0 in the conference.
Here's what they came up with: With 1:19 left, power forward Tyrone Weeks tipped in a miss to put UMass up by 3. URI misfired at the other end, Weeks got the rebound and hit a free throw to put UMass up by 4 with :31.6 left. Point guard Edgar Padilla sank two free throws with :18.4 left to put UMass up by 6.
URI cut the lead to 3 on a Murphy trey with :11.5 left, and again the crowd was hopeful. When UMass guard Carmelo Travieso missed a free throw and URI got the rebound with :05.5 left, the faithful were ecstatic. But Travieso redeemed himself immediately and saved UMass with an inbounds steal and dunk with :01.4 left.
Game over. UMass had once again escaped.
That remarkable sequence lowered the countdown for an unbeaten regular season to three games. Next on tap is George Washington Saturday.
“We just have it instilled in ourselves that somehow we're going to win,” said UMass center Marcus Camby, who had a game-high 25 points but on 7-for-20 shooting. “Someone is going to make the play.”
The Rams (15-9, 7-6) frustrated Camby as few teams have. The 6-foot-11-inch shot blocker extraordinaire (five rejections last night) had three attempts swatted back in his own face, two by 6-7 freshman Antonio Reynolds (team-high 18 points, 13 boards, 4 blocks).
“We just decided we were going to go right at him,” said Reynolds. “It was a great game for us, but down the stretch, we didn't show our maturity. This is a learning situation for us.”
Many figured the Rams would not stay as close to UMass as they did Jan. 17 in Amherst (when Camby was out of action). But they gave UMass one of its toughest battles of the season.
URI trailed by as many as 8 in the second half but rallied several times, and with 1:46 remaining crept within 67-66 after a free throw by Murphy. But then Weeks scored on a tip-in, setting in motion the decisive sequence.
“I saw that Marcus was going to miss the shot, so I just got in there, got good position and tipped it in,” said Weeks (16 points, 9 boards).
Then it was Travieso's turn for heroics – after his missed one-and-one at 72-69 that Reynolds grabbed, prompting a URI timeout with :05.5 left.
“I was very, very upset I missed that free throw,” said Travieso. “During the timeout, I said to myself, 'I will do anything to get the ball back.' ”
That he did. On URI's first inbound attempt, he batted the ball out of bounds. On the second try, with :04.4 left, he stepped in front of Tyson Wheeler, stole the ball and finished with a dunk.
URI had 1.4 seconds, and no hope.
“We never say, 'Here we go again,' ” said Weeks, “But when Murphy hit the three with :11.5 left, I said, 'Wow! I should have blocked that.' But Carmelo made the big steal and we pulled out the win.”
Weeks showed strengths in bench-pressed situation
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 2/21/1996
PROVIDENCE – Yes, Virginia, there is a UMass bench.
And sitting on that bench is a human condo named Tyrone Weeks, and without his presence, we would have had ourselves a seriously major story last night at the Civic Center. We would have had a press-stopper, all right. We would have had a University of Massachusetts loss, rather than a 74-69 triumph over a spunky Rhode Island team.
This was not a great night for the starting Minuteman forwards. Donta Bright, a 15-point scorer, was held to two field goals. Dana Dingle got into foul trouble and was limited to 24 minutes. John Calipari needed a major lift from his bench, and he got it from a major source named Tyrone Weeks.
The program lists the junior from Philadelphia as 6 feet 7 inches, 260 pounds. He could be 270. He could be 250. Who knows? Whatever he weighs, he is a master of the ancient art of Taking Up Space. Weeks is a professional rebounder in the Paul Silas/Michael Smith mode, a true beast on the glass. He gets his rebounds because he generally wants the basketball more than the other guy, because he knows how to get position, because he is strong enough to hold that position and because he has excellent timing.
He is not noted for his scoring, but there are nights when he has a deft little inside touch, and last night was one of those. His assortment of little turnarounds and put-backs, combined with a decent night from the foul line, accounted for a career high of 16 points. Toss in his nine rebounds and he had an extremely productive 23 minutes.
Weeks also had the biggest basket of the night. The Minutemen were clinging to a 67-66 lead with just under a minute to play when Bright slithered into the lane for one of his patented mid-range jumpers. The ball wouldn't drop. Marcus Camby took a stab at it, but the ball wouldn't drop. Weeks then got a hand on it. The ball dropped.
Chad Thomas threw up a floater at the other end, and there was a terrific scramble for the rebound. When all the bodies had finished smashing into each other, Weeks had his hands on the basketball. He was fouled and he made one of two to give UMass a crucial 4-point lead at 70-66.
Weeks has made other significant contributions this season. The biggest came Jan. 14, when Camby scared the commonwealth with his pregame collapse. Tyrone went out and submitted career highs of 15 points and 12 rebounds in a 65-52 victory over St. Bonaventure.
But this was his greatest game. The atmosphere in the Civic Center was Grade A, and Rhode Island had come to play. There is simply no doubt that without Weeks' play, UMass would have been in a great deal of trouble.
He didn't start off very well. He was an early substitute for Dingle, but coach John Calipari thought he was too passive at the offensive end and replaced him with Inus Norville after very few possessions.
“What Tyrone does too often is give too much credit to the opposition,” said Coach Cal. “I don't care if there's a 7-footer in there; Tyrone has to take it to people on offense. That's why I sent Inus in for him, because he really wasn't playing offense.”
When Weeks made his return to the lineup, he was a changed man.
“I told him, 'Take it and score,' ” explained Calipari. “He can do that. You have to understand: Tyrone scored 30 points a game in high school. People weren't as big as him, true, but he can score.”
It wasn't just the starting forwards who were laboring through a tough night. Camby was nothing like the Player of the Year lock we all saw devouring Virginia Tech at both ends Saturday afternoon.
“The good news for us in this game,” said Calipari, “was what I was telling the team today, that we can't always count on Marcus Camby to carry us. There are going to be nights when we need something from other people. Marcus did not have a good night tonight, and yet he had 25 points and 13 rebounds. We needed something else, and Tyrone stepped in with unbelievable minutes. He scored and he rebounded, and we needed it.”
Weeks will be a valuable weapon for UMass during tournament play, because he enables Calipari to give people different looks. The starting front line is about the polar opposite of physical. It's not just Camby, a noted feathery type. Bright is a glorified 6-5 with an average build, and Dingle is no heftier. UMass can be pushed around.
Until Weeks enters the game, that is. There simply aren't many collegiate players capable of pushing Weeks around. He alone makes UMass a physical team.
UMass is now 26-0. Nobody does that on the strength of one player. And nobody does that on the strength of five players. Tyrone Weeks reminded a basketball-loving nation last night that when John Calipari goes to the bench, he may very well be going to his strength.
Resiliency is a UMass trademark
On College Basketball
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 2/21/1996
PROVIDENCE – You have to wonder when the tank will finally hit “E” for the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. How often can they drain their emotions against teams that have nothing to lose?
The latest example came last night at the Civic Center, when a gutsy University of Rhode Island team went into the final six seconds of its Atlantic 10 game against the Minutemen with a chance to win.
But once again UMass held on, coming away with a 74-69 victory that was far tougher than its win over more highly regarded Virginia Tech Saturday.
“Everybody in the building got their money's worth,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “We did what we had to do to win.”
UMass does that every game, no matter the quality of opposition, the setting, or how well the Minutemen play.
Calipari isn't worried about his team becoming emotionally drained because each day brings an emotional high.
“We're not even looking ahead toward Saturday against George Washington,” he said. “We're not even looking ahead to Friday. We're just trying to get through tomorrow.”
The Minutemen have had to rally from behind in 11 games. They have been taken to overtime by lesser teams. “We're not going to play our best game every night, that's obvious,” said Calipari. “But we go into each game, into each situation, expecting to find a way to win.”
Center Marcus Camby, who had what some would call an off night (7 for 20) but finished with 25 points and made a key block in the final seconds, put a similar spin to the Minutemen's feelings.
“We've got lots of winners on this team,” said Camby. “We've got guys who have it in their head that we're going to find a way to win.”
The Minutemen have done that 26 times this season.
Their last two wins came on the road in hostile environments, although there was a big UMass presence in the building last night.
“The satisfaction we have is going into other people's buildings and beating them,” said Camby. “That feels great. It's pretty satisfying.”
The Minutemen have no more conference road games. They have two more Atlantic 10 games, against George Washington and St. Joseph's. Each will have a motivating factor; GW beat the Minutemen twice last season and knocked them off their No. 1 perch with President Clinton in attendance in Washington.
So that should be enough to fill the Minutemen's tanks. Next Wednesday, St. Joe's comes to Mullins Center, and the Minutemen will be shooting to complete an undefeated conference schedule. Another goal.
Then comes another hostile crowd at Louisville March 2. If everything goes according to plan, that will be for the perfect regular season. Another carrot Calipari can dangle in front of his team.
After that, it will be the Atlantic 10 tournament, and Calipari can use the prospect of being the No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Regional.
“I don't care where we play,” said Calipari with a laugh. “If we're a No. 1 seed, we can go anywhere. It's who you play that counts.”
Next month, of course, will be different. Single elimination – lose and you can snooze in front of your television set, watching other teams contend for the national championship.
But for now, the Minutemen are still on their mission. Refuse to Lose?
Absolutely. Everybody has taken their best shots at the Minutemen, and they are still ticking.
Amazing. Simply amazing.
UMass has it all together
On College Basketball
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 2/21/1996
Al Skinner was finished with work for the night, and now he was talking about his alma mater. Only a few minutes, earlier it had been different for Skinner.
The University of Massachusetts was an obstacle that had to be overcome if Skinner's University of Rhode Island team was to have a reasonable chance of making the NCAA tournament.
Skinner, a UMass grad, had done his job well. He had studied tapes and past performances. He had evaluated individual performances, devised strategies that would cause UMass more problems than it had experienced at almost any time this season.
And the Rams almost pulled it off, making the No. 1-ranked Minutemen sweat to the point of near exhaustion. They did what any team with less talent but great ambition could want. They went into the final seconds of Tuesday night's game at the Providence Civic Center with a chance to win, to pull off the upset that has become everyone in college basketball's goal this season: knocking off the unbeaten Minutemen.
But for the 26th time, it didn't happen. The Minutemen dug down into their reserve account of emotion and guts once more and pulled out a 74-69 victory.
They won the game, but there was a weariness in their voices afterward. Center Marcus Camby talked about “regrouping” for the next game against George Washington Saturday. Other players sounded as grateful for surviving as they did elated for winning.
But Skinner, slipping back into a more comfortable role in which he could root for his alma mater, talked about something else.
“With this team,” said Skinner, meaning the Minutemen, not the Rams, “you have a chemistry that you don't see that often. They are unselfish; they stick together. If something happens and someone is in trouble, someone else takes up for him. You've seen that all season. It's truly a great team.”
Skinner's wrong. In the inventory of great teams, UMass wouldn't make the cut if you were talking about overwhelming individual talent.
Camby may be the Player of the Year, but the rest of the squad is a bunch of lunch-bucket, hard-hat guys. Put them out there by themselves and UMass is probably a marginal Top 20 team.
But when they are taken collectively, working instinctively as well as unselfishly, the aura of greatness surrounds the Minutemen and coach John Calipari.
UMass is now three wins from perfection in the regular season, which would make it 29-0.
It all might end with a loss next week or, more significantly, next month. But for now, it is something to marvel at.
Look what this team has done. It has trailed or been tied at halftime 10 times this season, but has come back to win every game. It has been without its best player, Camby, for four games and you would hardly have known he left. It has been the poster board opponent on everyone's schedule since November.
It has come up with improbable heroes on the most unexpected nights, such as Tuesday when Tyrone Weeks came off the bench and scored a career-high 16 points.
If you want another hero, look at the bench, where Calipari and his staff have manipulated the team like master puppeteers, pulling the right strings every night, making the right moves, using the proper psychological tone.
Coach Cal's latest ploy might be seen as self-serving. He is everywhere these days, from talk radio to “Good Morning America.” You want to experience his wisdom? Pick up USA Today or Esquire magazine and read it. Turn on your television set and watch it. Turn on your radio and hear it. Calipari will tell you, which is his prerogative. He has earned the right to strut just a little bit.
But there is a method behind that as well. Sure, Calipari is promoting himself, but he also is diverting some of the attention and pressure from his players.
As accessible as Calipari seems to be, his team is almost like a sequestered jury. Closed practices, limited access. The minicams from Mars and points east and west have not yet made the journey to Amherst.
If there is a sense of normalcy to this season, it's in the way the Minutemen go about their business. Aside from the flurry of publicity surrounding the collapse of Camby, it has been relatively quiet around the Mullins Center.
But here they are a week and three wins from going into the history books and the Minutemen are back in Amherst, practicing, attending school and preparing for the next game. What's the big deal?
Coach Cal will take the heat. He will talk about an undefeated season and the growing pressure. All his team has to do is play a simple game. Go out and have fun. And win, of course. But if the Minutemen don't, it's still not the end of the world.
That will change once the CBS eye focuses on the Minutemen and the comparisons with the all-time great teams are brought up on a daily basis. And it will change when the stakes are increased in the single-elimination NCAA tourney.
But for now, the beat goes on, quietly and smoothly.
Massachusetts (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Dingle 24 2-5 3-3 2-5 0 4 7 Bright 35 3-11 1-2 3-7 1 2 7 Camby 36 7-20 11-12 2-13 1 4 25 E Padilla 36 1-4 2-2 1-4 9 2 4 Travieso 38 6-11 0-1 0-4 1 3 15 Weeks 23 6-9 4-6 5-9 0 4 16 Norville 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Clarke 6 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 0 0 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 25-60 21-26 13-42 14 19 74 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.417, Ft-.808. 3-Point Goals: 3-11, .273 (Bright 0-1, E Padilla 0-3, Travieso 3-7). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Camby 5, Weeks). Turnovers: 16 (Camby 6, Bright 4, Dingle 2, Clarke, E Padilla, Travieso, Weeks). Steals: 8 (Travieso 3, Bright 2, Camby 2, E Padilla). Rhode Island (69) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp King 19 0-3 0-0 0-2 0 1 0 Reynolds 40 7-15 4-8 3-13 2 4 18 Anderson 18 5-8 1-3 2-4 0 4 11 Thomas 19 4-7 1-1 1-2 3 4 10 Wheeler 40 4-18 5-6 1-2 9 0 15 Murphy 25 2-4 3-4 1-6 0 2 8 Hashim Bakari 17 2-3 0-0 0-2 1 3 4 Arigbabu 22 1-2 1-4 1-1 0 2 3 _______________________________________________ Totals 200 25-60 15-26 9-32 15 20 69 _______________________________________________ Percentages: Fg-.417, Ft-.577. 3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (King 0-2, Thomas 1-2, Wheeler 2-9, Murphy 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Reynolds 4, King, Arigbabu). Turnovers: 14 (Reynolds 4, Thomas 3, Arigbabu 2, Murphy 2, Wheeler 2, Anderson). Steals: 7 (Hashim Bakari 2, Reynolds 2, Wheeler 2, Murphy). __________________________________ Massachusetts 38 36 - 74 Rhode Island 33 36 - 69 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Massachusetts 2 (, Bright). A: 13,106. Officials: Phil Bova, Dick Paparo, Brian Kersey.