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UMass shows once more why they are ranked once again

December 8, 2013 Columns No Comments
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – If you wanted to get a good idea of why UMass is undefeated and ranked in the polls for the first time in 15 years, Saturday’s 105-96 win over Brigham Young was perfect. It was very much a team win, even if one of the stars had a big day, and it showed that this team is dealing with prosperity just fine right now.

When Cady Lalanne went out with two fouls less than four minutes in and Brigham Young up 8-3, it didn’t look good for the Minutemen. Sure, there was a lot of basketball left to play, but with the Cougars’ size and UMass’ best post player sitting, it could have gotten bad early. Brigham Young out-scores opponents by about ten per game with points in the paint, and Lalanne is the rim protector and top rebounder on this team. But what happened is a big part of why UMass remains undefeated.

After Lalanne sat, the game turned with everyone picking up, especially some one might not have expected right away. It’s easy to look at Chaz Williams’ outing since he was clearly in a zone, but there was so much more than that. Just in the first half, Williams had 16 on 5-5 shooting and eight assists, finishing the afternoon with 32 points on 9-14 shooting (5-7 from deep) and 15 assists with just one turnover.

But look beyond his numbers and the team concept comes into focus. Sampson Carter added 11 of his 20 in the first half, Maxie Esho had six points and five boards while making plays that don’t show up in the box score, and even Trey Davis got into the act with six points of his own. Davis, who hasn’t been much more than a bit player in his young career, had 11 points and six assists with two turnovers.

“We had some stuff to get the ball out of (Williams’) hands, but when we got the ball out of his hands, the other guys were really good,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose.

Added Williams: “They always tell me ‘if I’m open, I’m going to make it,’ and that’s what they did tonight.”

As a whole, the Minutemen had 29 assists on 35 made field goals and 14 turnovers. It’s the one stat that most tells you how this was a true team win.

“I thought that was a really nice job of our guys sharing the basketball,” said Kellogg. “We did a much better job against the zone and them mixing up defenses than we have in years past. The guys played selfless, they played to win, which is slowly becoming a staple of this team, which I guess I’m most proud of.”

The Minutemen started with an 11-0 run to take the lead for good, led by Raphiael Putney scoring nine of his 15 points. BYU would never get closer than three after that, which happened on a number of occasions. UMass had an answer every time the Cougars rallied, which is a sign of a team that is playing well while hunted but also something they have done all season thus far. They have made a habit of wearing teams down to win going away, out-scoring opponents by about six per game in the second half while only trailing for over ten out of 160 second-half minutes on the season.

Kellogg said the team has been very business-like since they got ranked. The veterans have been around for some struggles, so they appreciate where they’re at and know it can be taken away quickly. There hasn’t been much talk about being ranked, and it’s been reflected in the practices.

“We’ve had some success here, but I think them going through some of the not-so-great times is built for this,” Kellogg reflected. “They’ve really committed to the team and playing hard and coming into practice with good attitudes. If we keep good attitudes, we’ll play well. We might not win every game, but we’ll play well.”

While UMass already has potentially good resume wins for the NCAA Tournament, they are not resting on their laurels. Given their remaining schedule, that’s not a bad idea. They have to go to Ohio, then head south to play Florida State in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic. After Christmas they host Providence. None of those games are gimmes. Atlantic 10 play won’t be a walk with the likes of VCU, Saint Louis, Dayton and Richmond headlining while George Washington has been better than many expected. La Salle is probably a little better than their 4-4 mark indicates.

Besides the need to keep the resume up, plus the fact that some of the teams they have knocked off have not lived up to expectations early, UMass is in a position where they would be a resume-building win for another team. They know that, but also that they still have something to go for.

“The guys around us are hungry for more,” said Williams. “We say that there’s a target on our back, but we still have a target on everybody else’s back, because we’re chasing one thing and that’s making it to the tournament for a chance at the national championship.”

Kellogg loved that the MassMutual Center in his hometown was sold out on Saturday and that there is some real buzz around the team. It’s a sign of how far he has brought the program through some clear growing pains. The early going of the season suggests he has a team that can win, and Saturday demonstrated that as much as any game this year.

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