Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball uses extended break to recharge for final stretch of regular season

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

College basketball, like any other sport, is a game of routine. You get in the gym at the same time each day and put up hundreds of shots, run through specific drills and prepare for the upcoming opponent with focus and tenacity.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team is no exception in this regard and one of its routines found a schedule-related disruption this week. Throughout the first two and a half months of the 2016-17 season, UMass (12-11, 2-8 Atlantic 10) has gotten used to playing two games a week—usually one during the week and the other on the weekend.

This week was an outlier for the Minutemen. After their 88-78 loss to La Salle last Wednesday, they had to wait a full six days to get back on the court in a competitive matchup.

UMass will take on Rhode Island at Mullins Center Tuesday night in a rematch of its 79-77 loss to URI (15-7, 7-3 A-10) back on Jan. 15.

Just getting back in the gym and practicing after the loss to the Explorers was something Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg wanted to stress this week with such a long layoff.

“Obviously we had a little bit of a break after a tough loss at La Salle. I thought that was a good college basketball game,” Kellogg said in his weekly media teleconference Monday morning. “We played well for quite a bit of the contest and had a chance in the last five minutes maybe to make a push and a run. That didn’t happen, so we’ve had a good week of practice.”

With six days off from any A-10 contest, Kellogg focused a large effort on shoring up some of the holes that have hurt the Minutemen throughout their disappointing conference run.

“I think it’s a good break for us with eight conference games left and good stretch coming up,” Kellogg said. “We gave them a little break earlier in the week and Thursday and Friday we did some light work and we had really good practices on Saturday and Sunday.”

“I’m hoping we have another good day today and trying to solidify how we play as far as defensively the philosophy of how hard we work and those things; and then on the offensive end just execution,” Kellogg added in terms of specific areas in which he wants to see improvement. “I think we’ve been in some games where we haven’t executed as well offensively as I’d like to maybe make some inopportune turnovers and shots at different junctures.”

It’s no secret that UMass is one of the youngest teams in the nation let alone the A-10. With five freshman receiving playing time, the youth of the Minutemen can come back to bite them when it comes to the dog days of conference play.

Kellogg understands some freshmen can run out of steam at this point in the season, but he believes his team can fight through it and the break did a lot to give the young guys a chance to recharge.

“I think that every freshman goes through different kinds of phases throughout the year where they hit either a wall or a tough stretch,” Kellogg said. “I think that some of our guys have hit that and have battled through it. It’s a mental battle for young kids to get through a full season, especially when things aren’t going perfect.”

With UMass sitting 13th out of 14 teams in the conference, the young Minutemen could very easily fold and pack it in for the season, but they are focused on getting back on track and Kellogg is hoping this break will help them do that.

“When you’re going through some rough patches or rough stretches in anything, I think a mental break once in a while is decent as long as you come back recharged and refocused mentally,” he said. “I think physically our guys have been there in a lot of different aspects. It’s been mental stuff that just needs to stay focused [on] for a full 40 [minutes] and a full two hour and twenty minute practice and I think that this was a good time for us to get a little break, but also give us a chance to refocus and reset the deck.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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