With all five starters returning from last year's squad plus some talented newcomers joining the team, the Minutemen (2-2) look to have the ingredients necessary to contend for the league title in the less powerful Atlantic 10 and make a run at their first postseason tournament bid since 1999-2000.
Steve Lappas' squad had a big test this past weekend when they faced Gonzaga in the "Battle in Seattle," a neutral venue for both teams. Though the Spokane, Wash. had a tad more fans than did the team from Amherst, Mass.
The Minutemen did bounce back from another slow start. Down 33-20 at the break, UMass tied the game at 40-40 and took the lead twice, the last time 47-45 with 8:53 left to play. The WCC squad put together a 23-10 run to pull away with a convincing win, 68-57. The Zags (now 6-1) were led by their rugged inside duo of senior Ronny Turiaf (19 pts, 14 rebs) and sophomore Adam Morrison (20 pts, 9 rebs).
This was UMass' first road game. Their home wins were over Birmingham Southern (64-60) and Yale (70-56) and the loss was to Northeastern, UConn's foe this past Monday. The Boston-area Huskies grabbed a 84-68 road win over Massachusetts before losing to nationally ranked Connecticut, 97-60 on Monday.
UConn enters this week's play at number 6 in the USA Today/ESPN poll and #7 in the Associated Press ranking.
UMass started 2-0 for just the second time since the Final Four year of 1995-96 after beating Birmingham Southern and Yale at the Mullins Center. But them the Minutemen laid an egg, losing at home to Northeastern on Dec. 1, 84-68.
Senior guard Anthony Anderson has moved into 29th in career scoring at UMass (1,058) and is ninth in career assists (324). He passed current Boston College coach Al Skinner in the Gonzaga game. With six more, he'll pass another major college coach, Louisville's Rick Pinto, who had 329 from 1973-74.
The Minutemen are 2-1 against a defending national champion. The wins were over North Carolina, 91-86, in overtime on Nov. 24, 1993 and Arkansas, 104-80, on Nov. 25, 1994. UMass' loss was to Connecticut, 79-65, on Nov. 22, 1999.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to shoot the ball better at the start of games, especially with the caliber of teams we will be facing." -- UMass coach Steve Lappas, on his Minutemen, who've started slow offensively in all four games this season.
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. UConn, Thursday, Dec. 9; at Miami (Fla.), Sunday. Dec. 12; vs. Davidson, Sunday, Dec. 19.
KEYS: To have a prayer against UConn, UMass must avoid its early-season trend of starting games slowly. Otherwise, this could be a coyote-ugly affair.
ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore guard Art Bowers, who is shooting just 12 for 47 this season, has been bothered by an Achilles' tendon problem.
Junior forward Rashaun Freeman leads UMass in scoring with 15.0 points per game and rebounds with 7.3 per game. He posted his 13th career double-double in the Dec. 1 loss to Northeastern with 21 points and 11 rebounds.