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March 14, 1996 - Central Florida vs. UMass

  • Season: 1995-96
  • Date: Thursday, March 14, 1996
  • Opponent: Central Florida
  • Start Time: 3:00 PM ET
  • Site: Providence Civic Center, Providence RI
  • Special Event: NCAA Tournament, East Regional, First Round1)
  • Seeds: UM #1, UCF #16

Previews

UMass, UConn start at the top
They're No. 1 Seeds in NCAA field; BC makes it; Providence shut out

NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/11/1996

They have talked about playing each other for months. But nothing seems to happen. Now the NCAA has provided a way for the Universities of Massachusetts and Connecticut to face each other.

There's only one small problem. Each school has to reach the Final Four in the New Jersey Meadowlands at the end of the month. In fact, the Minutemen and Huskies have to get to the NCAA championship game to face each other.

The starting points for them and 62 other teams – including Boston College, but not Providence – were provided by the NCAA tournament selection committee last night when the announcement of the pairings officially began March Madness.

Both UMass and UConn expected No. 1 seeds. The Minutemen, ranked higher in the pecking order, were rewarded with a slot in their backyard in the East Regional in Providence, while the Huskies – not to their disappointment at all – were shipped one region away to the Southeast Regional in Indianapolis.

For BC fans, the suspense ended halfway through the announcement show on CBS with a No. 11 seeding in the Southeast Regional in Orlando, Fla., against No. 6 Indiana.

Now the drama turns to whether New England's two major powers, separated by about an hour's drive and dueling fans, can travel the road to the Final Four.

In addition, the Minutemen, by virtue of Kentucky's upset loss to Mississippi State yesterday, should jump back to No. 1 in the final regular- season Associated Press poll today. They claimed the CNN/USA Today honors last night.

But being labeled No. 1 is meaningless now. It is time to go out and prove it, and the Minutemen will have a tough task in what is probably the toughest region.

For Kentucky, the road looks much smoother. Losing to Mississippi State should not hurt.

“I didn't think we could make a serious run at the title unless we lost tonight,” said coach Rick Pitino. “Things had come too easily.”

The Wildcats might have done themselves a favor indeed. Consider this. Before this season, five major conferences – the Atlantic Coast, the Big East, the Big Eight, the Pac-10 and the SEC – had provided the NCAA field with 48 conference tournament champions. Of those 48, only one – Duke, which won the ACC tournament title in 1992 – was able to parlay it into a national championship.

That is good news for both Kentucky and Kansas. And it is not-so-good news for UConn, which won the Big East tournament Saturday night by edging Georgetown.

If you are looking for a team coming from off the pace, you might like Marquette, seeded fourth in the East, which nearly stole the Conference USA tournament by upsetting Memphis on its home court and narrowly losing to top- seeded Cincinnati.

Or you could pick Georgetown, the No. 2 seed in the East.

And then there is Kentucky. It is the only team in the field that probably will consider anything but the NCAA title a disappointment. They are already making plans for the championship parade in Lexington, Ky.

Among the bubble teams not making it were Providence, undoubtedly hurt by a loss to Miami in its last regular-season game, and Minnesota, which seemed to play its way in with wins over Iowa and Illinois last week.

In terms of conference strength, the committee went by the books. The ACC had six teams, the Big East and Big Ten five. The Atlantic 10 made strides by getting in four teams – Virginia Tech, Temple, George Washington and UMass – for the first time.

Minutemen take their latest step in stride
NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/11/1996

SHUTESBURY – You would have thought they were sitting through a rerun of “Face The Nation.“ When the University of Massachusetts basketball team saw “Massachusetts” appear on the television screen during the NCAA tournament pairings show yesterday, they sat motionless and speechless. This despite the fact that the Minutemen were given a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.

The 31-1 Minutemen, who will be ranked No. 1 in today's final regular- season Associated Press poll (they took CNN/USA Today honors last night), are the top seed in the East and will meet 16th-seeded Central Florida, the team with the worst record in the field of 64 at 11-18, in the first round Thursday at Providence.

“We're excited; we're just telling the kids we need to just have two more weekends of good basketball and we'll be at the Meadowlands,” said coach John Calipari, who after watching his team's reaction said, “We're just sitting here and watching. You guys used to cheer.”

UMass was seeded No. 2 in the East Regional last year. This year's No. 2 seed in the East is Georgetown, which lost to Connecticut in the Big East tournament final Saturday. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale predicted Georgetown would win the East Regional, prompting Calipari to say, “Now I know we're winning. Dick Vitale has picked us to win 16 times this year.”

A victory will put the Minutemen against the winner of the first-round game between eighth-seeded Bradley and ninth-seeded Stanford, the latter of which UMass beat to advance to the Sweet 16 last year.

Others in the East Regional include fourth-seeded Marquette, one of the hottest teams in college basketball down the stretch, third-seeded Texas Tech, the only other team in the tournament with one loss (28-1), and 12th-seeded Arkansas.

“Marquette is playing as well as any team in the country,” said Calipari. “Bradley just won their tournament. Stanford closed out strongly. It's a good bracket with solid teams – conference champions and teams on a roll. The names may not be familiar, but it's as good a bracket as any.”

Central Florida began the year 2-0, then lost 12 of its next 13 games. Included was a 73-54 loss to Nevada-Las Vegas, which is coached by former UMass assistant Bill Bayno. The Golden Knights finished 3-3 and won the Trans- America Athletic Conference title despite being seeded sixth.

Rumor has it that Central Florida was matched against Kentucky before the Wildcats lost to Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference tournament final yesterday. The Golden Knights were led by forward Harry Kennedy (17 points per game) and Howard Porter Jr. (son of the former Villanova standout), who averages 13.3 points and 7 rebounds per game.

“I think we played with a lot more intensity and determination in February,” said Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw. “It's a tremendous challenge going against the No. 1 team in the country. They have won 31 ballgames, and if you win that many you must be playing well. It will be tough going up to Providence, because it's right in their backyard, but look forward to the challenge.”

Since it's the fifth consecutive time the Minutemen have made it to the NCAA tournament (all via an automatic berth), the suspense is undoubtedly gone from the scenario.

UMass, which will raise a banner to the rafters of Mullins Center to commemorate the No. 1 ranking, was a virtual lock for a top NCAA seed, and most figured the Minutemen would be in the East (although Calipari said he thought his team would be shipped out after UConn's win in the Big East final).

That's why UMass senior Dana Dingle said the team met the announcement with little fanfare.

“It's another tournament, but our ultimate goal is to win it all,” he said. “You can't really get excited now. It's just the beginning. As the tournament gets going, we'll get more excited.”

Brace yourself for a rugged bracket
NCAA Basketball Tournament / The East
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 3/11/1996

The party at the John Calipari household last night should have been tempered. The committee may have made the Minutemen a No. 1 seed, but it hammered them in the bracket, stacking tough teams like cord wood.

Central Florida should be a scrimmage in the first round, naturally, but after that it is tough the entire way.

Look at the No. 8 Bradley-No. 9 Stanford game. Either team will be dangerous, especially Bradley, which should not be dismissed just because it lost in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Stanford, which UMass bounced from last year's tournament, had an up-and- down year, but the Cardinal have blue-chip guards in Brevin Knight and Dion Cross.

Bradley could be a bigger problem for UMass. The Braves are dominated by seniors who want to make a splash in their final go-round. Beating UMass in the second round would certainly accomplish that, and they are capable if the Minutemen have a lapse.

As Calipari said after a win over Temple this season, “We can't be having lapses in the tournament because we'll find ourselves behind by 16 points instead of 6, and it will be a lot tougher coming back.”

No. 4 seed Marquette is playing as well as any team in the nation right now. If you can go through Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati (which barely beat the Golden Eagles) and still be standing, you have a very good team.

Next we come to the other half of the bracket. Waiting at the regional final in Atlanta may well be No. 2 seed Georgetown, perhaps the most feared team in the tournament.

Georgetown, despite losing to UConn in Saturday night's Big East tournament final – a game Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former commissioner Dave Gavitt labeled as perhaps the best one ever played in the conference – seems ready and able to make a long, serious run.

Mississippi Valley State should be no problem for the Hoyas. New Mexico is a team not many know about but may be a little dangerous. The Lobos won the WAC tournament (on their home floor), coach Dave Bliss is experienced (not to mention WAC Coach of the Year) and Kenny Thomas may be the best freshman no one East of the Mississippi has heard about.

The upper half of that bracket looks soft. North Carolina is shaky as a No. 6 seed, unusually low for the Tar Heels. But this is tournament time and no one should discount a Dean Smith team. Texas Tech may have a sparkling record, but they came out of the Southwest Conference. They might be good, but no one knows and they probably are not good enough to present a problem for the Hoyas.

Let's say the Minutemen get past the first two rounds to Atlanta. Facing Marquette and Georgetown in successive games would certainly test their skill and stamina.

The key will be for Calipari to break the tournament down into three segments. The first part will be Providence, which the Minutemen should survive if they pay attention to business.

Atlanta will be much tougher. If the Minutemen get through that minefield, the Final Four may seem easy indeed, especially if they weather a Georgetown team that has the talent, speed and size to match up well against them.

Upset special: Arkansas over Penn State.

Teams to watch: Marquette, Bradley.

Moving to Atlanta: UMass, Marquette, Georgetown, North Carolina.

Regional champ: UMass.

Camby best of the best
UMass notebook
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/13/1996

Like his team, Marcus Camby was near-perfect.

After leading the University of Massachusetts to the No. 1 national ranking and a 31-1 record blemished only by a late-season loss to George Washington, the 6-foot-11-inch junior center was a near-unanimous selection for the Associated Press All-America team yesterday, receiving votes from all but one of the 66 panelists.

His selection shared the spotlight with a Big East run on national acclaim. The conference became the first ever with three first-team AP honorees – courtesy of Connecticut's Ray Allen, Georgetown's Allen Iverson and Villanova's Kerry Kittles. Wake Forest's Tim Duncan rounded out the team.

For Camby, the likely choice as national Player of the Year, yesterday's selection capped a season of exhilarating triumph marred by a terrifying scare – his collapse before a game Jan. 14 for reasons still unknown. But he rebounded from that to head the nation's top five, becoming the first Minuteman to be selected to the AP first team.

Camby received 328 points from the national media panel in the voting, which was done on a 5-3-1 basis. Allen, the junior swingman and Big East Player of the Year, was next with 324. Iverson received 318 points, 4 more than Duncan. Kittles, the only senior on the first team, had 246.

Camby averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks as the Minutemen held the No. 1 ranking for 10 weeks.

“There are some terrific players around the country, but with Marcus, I don't have to do any posturing,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “Other people say he is the best player in the country. I don't have to. Good players put up numbers. Special players make everyone around them better. Marcus Camby is a special player.”

Camby led the Minutemen to their fifth straight Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament championships.

“The individual honors are nice,” said Camby, “but I would trade them all if it meant we would win the national championship.”

DRAWING A CROWD

Central Florida's total home attendance this season (13 games) was 13,914 – just 504 more than the seating capacity at the Providence Civic Center, where it will play UMass tomorrow in the first round.

UMass, UConn may be headed to finals faceoff
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/1996

The NCAA men's college basketball tournament begins today, and the startling reality is that the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut could very well play for the championship 18 days hence.

Why not? The two have established themselves as basketball royalty the past two years, during which time the only school with a better record than UConn (58-7) has been UMass (60-6). Imagine anyone predicting this turn of events 10 years back, when the two combined for a 21-45 record. But that was two driven coaches and two glittering new arenas ago.

The schools have since positioned themselves as the Athens and Sparta (which is which depending solely on one's point of view) of New England college basketball. After meeting 98 times over a period of 86 years, the two ceased scheduling regular-season contests with each other in 1990. (UMass plays in the up-and-coming Atlantic 10 Conference and UConn plays in the stodgier Big East.) While fans on both sides continually clamor for a bragging-rights regular-season game, administrators in Amherst and Storrs dawdle.

Each team was deserving of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, so they have been thrust into different regions. The UMass path to the Final Four, to be played at the Continental Airlines/Meadowlands Arena March 30-April 1, begins this afternoon in Providence, and the UConn trek gets under way two hours earlier in Indianapolis. The draw is such that the only place these two could meet would be in the championship game.

The sport was invented in Springfield more than 100 years ago, but New England has never exactly been the Home Office of college basketball. The only NCAA champion to come from this region was the 1947 Holy Cross team. The only New England school to advance to the Final Four since the basic tournament format took shape about 40 years ago is Providence, which got there in 1973 and 1987, losing in the semifinals each time. The normal yearly quota of truly superior college teams based in New England used to be one. UConn and UMass have broken barriers.

There has always been strong residual interest in basketball at Connecticut, but there was never a team of national prominence until Jim Calhoun took over in 1986. Connecticut had always made a living off homegrown talent, and the state has always been sufficiently deep in Division 1 players to keep UConn competitive on a regional basis. Calhoun immediately broadened the recruiting base, and he did so without neglecting the home port.

In recent years, Calhoun has recruited big high school stars from such states as Washington, Arizona and California. The best player on the current team, junior Ray Allen, was the South Carolina High School Player of the Year. Among his teammates are Rudy Johnson (Jacksonville, Fla.), Eric Hayward (Alexandria, La.), Kirk King (Baton Rouge, La.), Ricky Moore (Augusta, Ga.) and Travis Knight (Sandy, Utah), not to mention Doron Sheffer of Ramat Efal, Israel.

This is precisely the type of (inter)national profile UMass coach John Calipari seeks for his program. At the present time, however, he makes do with a regional approach. Six of his first seven players come from Eastern high schools, and that includes his Puerto Rican-born backcourt of Carmelo Travieso (Thayer Academy in Braintree) and Edgar Padilla (Springfield Central). Not that Calipari hasn't been able to indulge in some recruiting one-upmanship. The juiciest aspect of the current UMass-UConn rivalry is that Hartford native Marcus Camby is the best player on Massachusetts, which makes him The Man Who Got Away in the eyes of the fanatical UConn followers.

And “fanatical” is a tepid description of the Connecticut faithful. Fed by a humongous press corps known as The Horde, Connecticut fans take all this basketball business very seriously. Other state schools have legendary followings (Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina spring to mind), but none has the benefit of Connecticut's print coverage. The state of Connecticut has 11 Sunday papers. A typical Connecticut print press contingent consists of 25-35 people. It has long been an inside industry joke that if UConn were ever to advance to the Final Four, it would constitute “Cawood's Nightmare,” the reference being to Dave Cawood, the NCAA administrator who oversees the tournament and might have to find press seats for The entire Horde in downtown Newark. The nightmare is beginning to take shape.

Whereas Calhoun took a basically good program and turned it into a great one, Calipari entered a vacuum when he signed on in 1988. UMass had known some modest regional success in the '70s (perhaps you've heard of Julius Erving?), but by the time Calipari came to Amherst, the program was in intensive care, the result of 10 consecutive losing seasons.

The program as it exists now is a tribute to both Calipari and an administration which was willing to make a firm commitment to its coaching wunderkind. Calipari knew that without the resources of the Big East, his program would have to seek notoriety through television, and so he gladly participated in Midnight Madness TV games on ESPN. When the first one was played Feb. 2, 1991, many people laughed, but many other people watched, and the attendant publicity was extremely valuable. UMass would play four of them over the next three years, one of which was the final game at Curry Hicks Cage, the ancient home court which has since been replaced by the 9,000-seat Mullins Center.

UConn has similarly upgraded its facility, moving from the 4,000-seat Field House to the gleaming, 9,000-seat Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies also play a number of games at the 15,000-seat Hartford Civic Center.

The passion and intensity of the rivalry have continually increased over the past two years. There was a time in the 1994-95 season when the two were ranked 1 (UMass) and 2 (UConn). Right now UMass is No. 1 and UConn is No. 3.

The game has been played out in people's minds, on talk shows and in barrooms all season long – everywhere but on the court. Could UConn handle the graceful 7-foot Camby? Could UMass keep the explosive Allen under 30? Would the coaches get into a fistfight at midcourt? If all goes well, 60 million people will find out the answers on the night of April 1.

Carmelo Travieso has taken UMass - and the nation - by storm with his outside shooting proficiency and his court savvy
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/1996

When they saw the force of Hurricane David coming their way, they sought shelter in their grandmother's sturdy wooden shack. But soon the elements seeped through the crevices, and when the water level rose too high, the Travieso family knew it couldn't stay. There was no choice but to go back outside and risk running to a nearby shelter.

So they dashed – uncles and aunts and the grandmother and nieces and nephews – dodging flying objects, jumping over downed poles, marching in a strong wind that made every effort to push them back. “The rain was hitting me in the chest so hard, it felt like rocks hitting me,” said University of Massachusetts sharpshooting junior guard Carmelo Travieso, who was 4 when David ravaged his native Dominican Republic.

“My sister was carrying my cousin by the hair. I remember there was a pole with a live wire attached that everyone had to jump over. It was sparking, and I didn't want to jump over it. But my brother told me to jump, and I was crying, but I did. As we were running, you could see buildings collapsing and trees falling, shanty houses flying around. Thing was, people were running out into plantain fields gathering as much plantains as they could before the fields were destroyed. Everyone was in panic.”

The family reached the shelter, took a spot in the corner and huddled, surrounded by people who suffered broken bones and torn flesh attempting the same trip. They weren't so lucky the next day, when they returned to the spot where their home used to be.

“Houses had fallen on top of houses. Everything was destroyed,” said Travieso. “I remember shortly after that, we moved to Puerto Rico. Then about six months later, we came here.”

The family began anew in America that December, and the youngster hated the place. Too cold. He longed for the climes the family left behind. Then Carmelo Travieso discovered a passion.

Early on, Travieso's basketball career was marked by urban improvisation: He went from shooting at a bottomless net on a coat hanger to a milk crate to a couple of bicycle rims to a regulation hoop with a shirt attached for a net. But he discovered later that creativity didn't prompt prowess. Each time he played 21 at the Boys' Club in his Dorchester neighborhood, he'd watch older players take turns swatting shots back in his face.

He dreamed of the day he was old enough, strong enough, to shoot a basketball like the pros did: With the ball raised overhead, elbows cocked, fingers spread along the grooves of the sphere. Until then, he figured the best thing to do was to shoot any way he could from outside.

Way outside.

“I shot kind of funny,” said Travieso. “I had that Michael Adams kind of shot, that one-handed push shot. But I wanted to shoot the way the pros did, so I kept practicing until I was strong enough to do it. Then when I went on a growth spurt, my shot changed; I was comfortable shooting from the outside when I was about 13.”

Then the niche was bored; the pure shooter was born. The whole package was his. The hawkeyed stare at the rim. The fluid motion. The textbook stroke, release and follow-through. The final glance at the ball as it rotates through the bottleneck of the net, making the nylon fibers bounce and shimmy and sway. The endless repetition – the ability to give the sphere the same marching orders, from various locales, knowing more often than not it will reach the destination.

With Travieso, who is averaging 12.1 points a game, the Minutemen have one of the best outside attacks in college basketball. He hopes to help lead the top-seeded Minutemen in their NCAA East Regional first-round game against Central Florida today at the Providence Civic Center at around 3 p.m.

After showing flashes of his ability toward the end of last season, Travieso has become one of UMass' most reliable scorers. He is a combination pure shooter/ streak shooter, for he can go through much of a game without a point, then tally in bunches.

He had his best performance of the season at Duquesne, when he scored 33 points, going 7 for 7 from 3-point range in the second half. He scored 25 of UMass' first 27 points in the second half. He had 9 points in two minutes during the first half of the Minutemen's Atlantic 10 first-round game against St. Bonaventure and finished with 21 points.

Then there were UMass' three encounters with Temple. In the first meeting, he had two second-half 3-point baskets that silenced Temple rallies. In the second, Travieso had three treys in a five-minute span of the second half to help seal the Owls' fate. In last week's Atlantic 10 championship game, Travieso was 7 for 13 from the floor – with all of his shots coming from behind the 3-point line – for a game-high 21 points. His feats earned him tournament most outstanding player honors.

“I give a lot of credit to point guard Edgar Padilla for setting me up for good shots,” said Travieso. “I don't even have to look at him on the floor when I'm setting up, because I know he will get me the ball in a good position.”

When the pure shooter is in streak mode, he is something to watch. “When he gets into one of those zones, I know I'm not getting many rebounds,” said forward Dana Dingle. “He shoots it and you just start back down the floor and say, 'OK, that's going in.' ”

Hard to believe that a guy with his accuracy could struggle like Travieso did as a freshman at UMass, when he hit just 27 percent from 3-point range and often struggled to get his shot off. His game began coming around midway through that season, after a long chat with coach John Calipari, who told Travieso that if he didn't improve other facets of his game (particularly defense), he wouldn't see much time in a UMass uniform.

“My first year, it was like a complete learning experience,” said Travieso. “I had to learn things from square one and learn how to play at this level and prepare myself for the physicalness of the games I was going to play in – which I had no idea how they were going to be.

“Toward the middle of the season, I realized the things I had to do. I took that summer off and prepared, and that helped me definitely for this year. I learned the basics in practice and I started putting those things together last year and this year, and it evolved and I'm starting to evolve.”

In addition to regaining his shooting prowess, Travieso became one of the Minutemen's better defenders. He and Padilla have become one of the most respected backcourts in the nation because of their ability to pressure the ball and make entry passes to the low post difficult. That silenced preseason talk about UMass' question marks at point guard.

“I think I showed some signs of what I could do,” said Travieso. “I think it's been a good year, especially defensively. I think I've worked hard and definitely listened to what the coach wanted me to do.”

Still, Travieso's game didn't fully blossom – particularly offensively – until Marcus Camby collapsed before the Minutemen's Jan. 14 game at St. Bonaventure.

“When Marcus collapsed and Edgar started giving me the ball a little bit more,” said Travieso, “he told me to look for my shots here and there, just to see what could happen. At that point, I started getting more confident.”

Travieso has resumed being the type of shooter many remember from his days at Thayer Academy. “I still don't think you've seen the kid shoot as well as he can yet,” said his high school coach, Robin Dixon. “Don't be surprised if, before he leaves, he gets 12 3-point baskets in a game.”

When the Travieso family came to the States, Carmelo didn't speak English. In fact, at age 4, he was still learning Spanish. Ultimately, he learned to speak both fluently. “When I was in elementary school, it was all Spanish classes,” he said, “but in my neighborhood there, I had Spanish-speaking friends and American-speaking friends, so it was easy to learn both languages.”

When Travieso reached middle school, he requested English-only courses rather than bilingual studies. “I did that because I could speak English very well,” he said. “I felt comfortable with it and I thought that was what I should do.”

But Travieso's mother, Carmen Pena, didn't learn to speak English and to this day knows very little. “I've taught her some of the things to say, like, if I'm at the park, she can say, 'He's at the park,' or 'He's in the bathroom,' or 'He's not here,' ” Carmelo said. “And that would be the end of the conversation.”

When colleges began recruiting Travieso, they called his home, but unless he or his brother answered, “they would say 'hello' to my mom but they couldn't say anything else.” It wasn't long before recruiters began going through Dixon and Raul Travieso.

“The three of us – Carmelo, his mother and I – would sit down with a recruiter, and I asked a lot of questions I thought she would ask, about his education and his life after college,” said Dixon. “And recruiters would answer and Carmelo would interpret the answer back to his mother. I was really just a mediator in the process.”

For Calipari, it was one of two unorthodox recruiting ventures that year. “Edgar's parents are deaf, so we had to go through his sister with sign language, and in Carmelo's house, the brother translated because I don't use good enough Spanish to go in and speak,” he said.

“It was unique. What you had was saying something funny and getting a delayed laugh. I would tell a joke and no one would laugh for 30 seconds while the joke was translated and then they burst out laughing.”

But the two have been more than worth it. In addition to being popular with UMass fans, they have been role models for Hispanic youngsters, some of whom, like Travieso, grow up practicing on makeshift rims, hoping to one day earn a reputation as a pure shooter.

“You can never practice too much, take too many shots,” said Travieso. “You do it until you think you're comfortable with the way you shoot. That's what I try to do – shoot until I'm tired, then walk home.“

Travieso relishes the opportunity to speak to young people about persevering, cherishing education, overcoming obstacles. He says over and over, “I never forget where I came from,” and you can sense the 4-year-old inside him, looking back on ravaged surroundings, heeding his folks' directive to look no other way but forward.

Camby and Calipari clean up
NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT / NCAA TOURNEY NOTEBOOK
Compiled by Boston Globe staff writers Jack Craig in Boston, Mark Blaudschun in Indianapolis and Joe Burris in Providence, 3/14/1996

Last season John Calipari was a finalist for Coach of the Year honors for the second consecutive season and his star center at the University of Massachusetts, Marcus Camby, was a finalist for national Player of the Year accolades. Yesterday both earned what could be the first in a long list of national honors. The Sporting News named Calipari Coach of the Year and Camby Player of the Year.

Calipari, a Naismith Coach of the Year finalist in 1994 and '95, has led UMass to its best record ever (31-1) despite losing the team's leading scorer and rebounder (Lou Roe), best clutch shooter (Mike Williams) and a three-year starter at point guard (Derek Kellogg).

Camby, among 14 finalists for the Naismith Award last year, battled back this season from a Jan. 14 collapse before the St. Bonaventure game, which forced him to miss four games. He led the Minutemen in scoring (20.7 points per game) and rebounding (8.0 per game).

“It's a great honor to win the award,” said Camby last night. “There are a lot of great players out there, like Tim Duncan of Wake Forest and Ray Allen of Connecticut, who I have a lot of respect for. It is a good feeling that people consider me to be the top player in the country when there are so many talented guys.”

Opening acts nearly show-stoppers
NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/1996

PROVIDENCE – Three seasons ago, they struggled in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Penn, pulled out a 54-50 victory and walked off the court with the chant, “Overrated!” ringing in their ears. Two seasons ago, they struggled early against first-round opponent Southwest Texas State before staging a 78-60 rout. Ditto last season, when the Minutemen trailed St. Peter's through much of the first half before pulling away late in the half and winning, 68-51.

Under eighth-year coach John Calipari, the University of Massachusetts' appearances in the NCAAs usually have been marked by close calls in the first game. Oh, the Minutemen had a relatively easy go of it in the first round in 1992 – their first trip to the tourney in 30 years. Since then, they've made it interesting early.

The top-ranked Minutemen (31-1), No. 1 seed in the East Regional, hope to buck the trend today when they open against 16th-seeded Central Florida (11-18).

But Calipari is not concerned about trying to improve on previous opening performances. “You don't want to come out and go nuts the first game, because you've got a tough road,” he said. “It's six tough games. You want to come out and methodically do what you have to do. You don't want to go out and win by 70.

“I think in the game against St. Peter's, Marcus Camby got going, which catapulted him in the next two games, when he was outstanding. So hopefully, something like that happens in this game.”

Calipari is trying to guard against UMass taking Central Florida – one of just two teams in the tournament with a losing record – lightly. The Golden Knights began the season 3-12 but won eight of their last 14 games.

UMass, meanwhile, set a school record for victories, has the best record in the tournament and is the No. 1 seed overall. Atlantic 10 powerhouse UMass won its fifth consecutive conference regular-season and tournament titles – becoming only the third team in NCAA history to do so.

“It's hard to convince the team that they can be beaten,” said Calipari. “They have a lot of pride and they are very smart. They know that we had better come to play in every game.”

Central Florida, meanwhile, spent yesterday defending its appearance. “We're certainly here to win,” said guard Stacey Castle.

Recaps

UMass connects after close call
Minutemen ring up win with big finish

NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 3/15/1996

PROVIDENCE – We've come to expect this from the University of Massachusetts in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Minutemen never suffer enough misfortune to be in serious danger – just enough to make the contest closer than it should be.

In yesterday's East Regional opener, top-ranked and top-seeded UMass struggled in the first half against a 16th-seeded Central Florida team that entered the game a 30-point underdog. CFU rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit with five 3-pointers over the last 10 minutes and trailed by 4 at the break.

But early in the second half, UMass ended any nightmares about being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16th seed. Point guard Edgar Padilla had five steals in the first two minutes as the Minutemen outscored the Golden Knights, 12-0. UMass led by as many as 26 points and coasted to a 92-70 victory, setting up a second-round rematch tomorrow with Stanford.

Padilla tied his school record with seven steals and added eight assists and 15 points for UMass (32-1), which scored 24 points off 18 turnovers and outrebounded the Golden Knights, 31-18.

“We needed to get a little stung here to wake us up as we go through here,” said coach John Calipari, whose team struggled in the first half of an NCAA game for the fourth time in as many years. “I'm glad to get the first one done. I was a little nervous before the game.

“Then CFU makes a 3-point basket to start the game, and I say, 'You gotta be kidding me. Please don't tell me this is happening.' ”

Only enough to cause a few Minutemen to step up their games, led by Padilla and fellow guard Carmelo Travieso, who had a team-high 21 points.

As has been the case in Minutemen contests of late, the game was physical, particularly underneath. Center Marcus Camby once again encountered a team that tried to disrupt his game with hard bumps and fouls. With 17:30 left in the first half, Camby took a shot underneath and fell to the court, but he got up and walked off on his own.

But with 12:41 left in the second half, Camby went up for a shot and took a blow to the forehead from CFU forward Reid Ketteler that knocked him to the floor and left him bleeding profusely. Camby left the court shouting at Ketteler but returned after getting four stitches.

Even before the incident, UMass' leading scorer had cooled off from the floor; he finished with 14 points on 7-for-22 shooting. No. 2 scorer Donta Bright also had a subpar day, scoring just 9 points. But their services weren't needed because of Padilla and Travieso.

“I told the guys that someone's got to step up every game for us,” said Calipari. “They all have to prepare to be that guy, but hopefully one or two of them will do it every game we play.”

Yesterday Padilla, UMass' season and all-time steals leader, had a steal and layup on Central Florida's first two possessions of the second half to give the Minutemen a 47-39 edge. CFU called time, but when play resumed, forward Dana Dingle (12 points, 8 boards) stole the ball and Travieso nailed a 3-pointer for a 50-39 advantage.

On Padilla's third steal of the half, he converted a 3-point play at the other end to give UMass a 53-39 lead. “We had to pick up the defense a little bit,” said Padilla. “I put a little more pressure on the ball. I just wanted to make it a little harder for them to bring the ball up.”

“We had four or five straight turnovers, and that's what killed us,” said CFU guard Harry Kennedy (a team-high 21 points). “Trying to get the ball inbounded with their guard pressure startled us for a second. We thought they were going to back off like they did in the first half, but they kept coming after it.”

Central Florida scored its first points of the second half on a baseline drive and layup by guard Brad Traina with 17:26 left, cutting the margin to 55-41.

But the Minutemen kept CFU (11-19) from establishing the kind of offensive rhythm it had late in the first half. Meanwhile, UMass kept pouring in points. Travieso drained a trey with 12:10 left for a 63-44 lead. He hit back-to-back treys to make it 71-49. CFU hit several treys down the stretch, but it was too late.

Now the Minutemen look to another matchup with No. 9 Stanford, which ousted Bradley, 66-58, yesterday and looked much quicker than the team UMass routed, 75-53, in last year's tourney.

“I'm not looking forward to it,” said Calipari. “They'll be better prepared because they know us. It will be a very difficult game for us to win.”

NORVILLE NO GO

Backup center Inus Norville didn't suit up, nursing a sprained foot suffered Tuesday. “We hope Inus can play tomorrow, but right now he can barely walk,” said Calipari.

The Central issue was getting its message across
NCAA Basketball Tournament
By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, 3/15/1996

PROVIDENCE – The Danny Sheridan tongue-in-cheek odds on Central Florida's chances of winning the 1996 NCAA tournament were 500 trillion to 1, so it's not as if there was any pressure on the lads from Orlando as they lined up to play Your State U at the Civic Center yesterday afternoon.

“I looked at it like this: The whole nation is watching, and let's show them what Central Florida is all about,” said Harry Kennedy, a fearless bombardier who can tell his grandchildren he scored 21 points against mighty Massachusetts in an NCAA tournament game. “And we put a little scare in them.”

OK, so maybe it wasn't a whole nation, but there were a whole lot more people than the normal allotment of Golden Knight patrons camped in front of their TV sets, if only to see the No. 1-ranked team begin its quest for the NCAA title. And there were nearly 12,000 people in the stands, which is within 1,000 or so of the entire 1995-96 home attendance for the Trans-America Athletic Conference champs. So, yes, this was indeed an opportunity to showcase a basketball program that isn't exactly in the mainstream.

And, yes, they did put a little scare in the Minutemen before UMass asserted itself sufficiently on defense to emerge with a 92-70 victory, which, should anyone ask you, did cover the you-know-what.

UMass fumbled away an entry pass on its first possession and Central Florida came out running. The ball went to Kennedy, a junior college transfer who isn't even a little bit shy. He pulled up and drilled a three, which let UMass know it was in the company of a loosey-goosey opponent and not some frightened, happy-to-be-here squad acting more like a 116th seed than a 16th.

“Bing, bang, boom and they get a three,” said John Calipari. “I just laughed. I said, 'Can you believe this? I was hoping this wasn't going to be the way the game would go throughout.”

UMass never got up by more than 13 (29-16) in the first half, and with a late 7-0 flurry, the Golden Knights actually had it down to 4 (43-39) by halftime.

“After the first half, we looked at each other and I said, 'See, we can do this,' ” recalled Kennedy. “Then they got after us in the second half, and we didn't respond well to that.”

That's a polite way of saying that in the first two minutes of the second half, UMass stole everything but Central Florida's girlfriends. UMass slapped on the full-court press, and in one quick burst the Minutemen came up with six steals, five of them by Edgar Padilla. The accompanying 12-0 run decided the outcome, leaving the remaining 18 minutes of play for the stat man.

Kennedy said he was disappointed with his team's play, but the truth is that things could have gone a lot worse. Let's not forget that this game matched a 31-1 team against an 11-18 squad that started its season at 2-7 and lost seven games by 17 or more points, including one by 42. A month ago, the Central Florida players were mapping out their leisure time for the second week in March, not practicing to play the No. 1 team in the land.

“Oh, sure,” said Kennedy. “Some people I know around the campus laughed and said, 'What about the NCAAs?' and I said, 'There's always the conference tournament.' ”

That's riiiight. And when the TAAC tournament arrived, Central Florida forgot it was an 8-18 team and knocked off No. 3 seed Southeast Louisiana, No. 2 seed Campbell and No. 5 seed Mercer to win the title and receive the automatic invitation to the, you know, Big Dance.

Central Florida had no inside game to offer against UMass, but both Kennedy and guard Eric Riggs can shoot, as the Minutemen now know. Kennedy dropped in four 3-pointers, while Riggs, one of those Indiana-bred kids you don't want to play H-O-R-S-E with on his backyard hoop, deposited six threes, one of which he let fly from the Connecticut border. All 14 of Riggs' field goal attempts were from behind the arc.

It wasn't enough to win, but was that ever the point? Since the NCAA went to the current seeding system, no 16 has beaten a 1. They're all Battles of the Alamo.

“We'd heard everything anyone could say,” pointed out coach Kirk Speraw. “We'd heard all the questions. We knew what we were in for. All we could do was come up here and battle.”

Speraw came away feeling good about his club. “When we got down by 13 29-16, I was afraid we'd be down by 20 or worse at the half,” he said. “But we maintained our composure and came back at them.“

Central Florida doesn't exactly have a great frontcourt to begin with, but against UMass it was impotent. “The tandem of Tyrone Weeks and Marcus Camby killed us,” Speraw said. “Weeks used those 260 pounds on us on the one side, and Camby was waiting for us on the other.” Starting center Chris West scored one basket (in transition), which was one more than forward Howard Porter Jr. could muster.

“We just didn't have the offensive balance we had during our conference tournament,” lamented Kennedy, a 6-foot-5-inch forward who wisely spent the entire game a mile and a half from the paint.

The benefits of this game could be far-reaching for a school like Central Florida. “At least now if I say I play for Central Florida, someone might say, 'Hey, I saw you play against UMass,' ” reasoned Kennedy. “And there might even be some 6-11 kid out there who saw this game on TV and who might want to come to school in Orlando.”

Don't laugh. Kids have chosen schools for far worse reasons.

If you can accept the basic premise that winning or losing was never going to be the issue, this was, in truth, an all-around good day for the Golden Knights. They got to play in the tournament. On national television. They had a first half to remember. And they drew warm words of praise from the coach of the top-ranked team in America.

“I told the coach they really did a nice job,” saluted Coach Cal. “They were fearless out there. They were trying to figure out ways to win. If we had given them more open threes, they would have hit them, too.”

You slap those quotes into your press guide and mail it out to some places where a 6-11 kid looking to come in out of the cold might see it. Who knows? Next time you might come back as a 10 or a 12 seed and somebody else can be the 500 trillion-to-1 shot.

Box Score

                     FG  3-PT    FT   REBOUNDS
UCF                 M-A   M-A   M-A   O  D TOT PF TP  A TO BLK S   M
Kennedy, Harry*     6-16  4-11  5-7   0  1  1   2 21  0  5  0  0  32
Porter, Howard*     0-1   0-0   3-8   3  4  7   3  3  1  1  0  0  30
West, Chris*        1-2   0-0   3-3   0  4  4   4  5  0  0  0  2  20
Castle, Stacey*     2-10  1-4   6-8   1  4  5   2 11  8  3  0  0  35
Riggs, Eric*        6-14  6-14  2-2   0  1  1   0 20  0  5  0  1  28
Tice, Brad          2-4   0-0   0-0   1  1  2   1  4  0  1  0  0  15
Marlow, Tony        2-3   0-0   0-0   0  3  3   0  4  1  1  0  0  14
Ketteler, Reid      0-0   0-0   0-0   0  1  2   3  4  0  1  0  0  13
Traina, Brad        1-2   0-0   0-0   0  2  2   3  2  0  2  0  0  12
Conner, Brian       0-0   0-0   0-0   0  0  0   0  0  0  0  0  0   1
TEAM                                  2  1  3
Totals             20-52 11-29 19-28  8 23 31  19 70 11 18  0  3 200
                   .385  .379  .679

                     FG  3-PT    FT   REBOUNDS
Massachusetts       M-A   M-A   M-A   O  D TOT PF TP  A TO BLK S   M
Dingle, Dana*       4-7   0-0   4-5   5  3  8   1 12  0  0  0  1  32
Bright, Donta*      3-6   1-1   2-2   2  2  4   4  9  0  2  1  0  16
Camby, Marcus*      7-22  0-0   0-0   8  9 17   3 14  2  1  2  1  27
Padilla, Edgar*     6-12  0-5   3-5   1  2  3   2 15  8  1  1  7  31
Travieso, Carmelo*  7-12  6-10  1-1   0  5  5   3 21  2  2  0  2  29
Clarke, Charlton    1-2   0-1   0-0   0  0  0   2  2  3  2  0  0  15
Weeks, Tyrone       4-10  0-0   5-7   3  4  7   0 13  1  0  1  3  28
Cottrell, Ted       1-3   0-0   2-2   1  1  2   2  4  0  0  0  0   9
Nunez, Rigoberto    0-1   0-0   0-0   0  2  2   1  0  0  0  0  0   7
Pidilla, Giddel     1-2   0-0   0-0   0  1  1   2  0  2  0  0  2   3
Burns, Ross         0-1   0-0   0-0   1  0  1   0  0  0  0  0  0   2
MacLay, Andy        0-0   0-0   0-0   0  0  0   0  0  0  0  0  0   1
TEAM                                  2  0  2
Totals             34-78  7-17 17-22 24 29 53  18 92 16  8  5 16 200
                   .436  .412  .773

Central Florida        39     31  --  70
Massachusetts          43     49  --  92

ATTENDANCE: 11,931.
RECORDS: Massachusetts 32-1, Central Florida 11-19.
1)
round of 64
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