UMass’ Lalanne adjusting to new challenges

By Mark Chiarelli

Stephen Sellner
Stephen Sellner

It’s no secret that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team possesses a unique commodity in center Cady Lalanne.

At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Lalanne looks and plays the part of a thoroughbred center capable of anchoring the post on both ends of the floor. In an Atlantic 10 Conference dominated with capable scoring guards – nine of the 10 leading scorers in the conference are guards – Lalanne provides UMass an option that most programs cannot counter.

And at times, Lalanne’s piled up the statistics on the offensive end. He’s averaging 13 points per game in addition to a team-high 8.6 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. Yet harnessing his full offensive potential continues to be an evolving process, especially as the season progresses.

Sunday’s 73-68 victory over Rhode Island offered a fresh reminder of the work that remains. Lalanne played an impactful role, especially in the first half. Much of the Minutemen’s half-court offense was predicated around Lalanne’s impact in the post. But Lalanne struggled to find his shot, shooting just 1-of-4 from the field in 17 minutes of play in the first half and compounded the struggles by missing five free throws and making two turnovers. He finished the game with just six points in 35 minutes of play.

“I was a little frustrated,” Lalanne said. “I felt like I couldn’t hit a free throw, couldn’t make a layup.”

His coach, Derek Kellogg, said finding Lalanne touches offensively was a primary focus against the Rams.

“That’s a focus, I’ve been trying to get him the ball,” Kellogg said. “We need him to score some and we need him to offensive rebound and keep it around the rim. We got the ball into him some, he just has to start finishing and get a little more bouncy around the rim.”

UMass’ success is largely tied to the success of Lalanne. Behind guard Chaz Williams, the team needs a secondary scoring option to shoulder the load. On most nights, that duty falls to Lalanne.

But earning baskets is becoming a more strenuous activity since the Minutemen turned the calendar to league play. Lalanne is averaging just 10.8 points per game in eight conference games, substantially lower than his 14.5 points per game against non-conference opponents. He’s also dropped slightly in rebounding, down to 7.9 per contest in league games, down from 9.8 in non-conference.

Kellogg pointed to Lalanne’s emergence at the beginning of the season. He’s no longer an “unknown” to opponents. Instead, teams are scouting him.

“Teams are starting to play us a lot different and starting to play me a lot different,” Lalanne said. “Just watching film now is starting to help me see how they’re playing me.”

The most noticeable adjustment is opponents’ initial reaction to Lalanne catching the ball in the post. Similar to sharks upon smelling blood in the water, conference opponents are relentlessly double-teaming Lalanne after he catches the ball. Now, it’s almost more surprising when Lalanne isn’t met with two defenders when catching the ball with his back to the basket.

“It’s like a mind game to try and figure out when they’re coming and when they’re not coming,” Lalanne said. “Sometimes (opponents) front the post and put one guy behind me so it makes it harder to post and especially to try and get down low. So I just got to know how to work around that.”

The Minutemen traditionally play a scathingly quick up-tempo style, and Lalanne’s presence in the post helps in games that don’t break out into track meets. But balancing between getting Lalanne his touches in the post – it’s not uncommon to see him tangled up with an opposing big man pleading for an entry pass – and running the offense through all five players without disrupting flow is a tricky line to walk.

“My teammates understand if you get the ball (to the post), I’ll try to go up and score,” Lalanne said. “They understand that to the point where it’s not disturbing them either. If I don’t have anything, (I) obviously kick it out to them.”

It’s a constant process of evolution. Lalanne noted that he’s becoming more comfortable in running the pick-and-roll with Williams and continues to work with coaches on developing post moves and furthering his conditioning, a vital aspect as UMass creeps toward postseason play.

            Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.