UMass men’s basketball prepares for rematch with La Salle Wednesday

UMass men’s basketball prepares for rematch with La Salle Wednesday

By Amin Touri

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team needed to climb out of a 21-point deficit to top La Salle two weeks ago; the Explorers will get a chance to turn the tables on Wednesday.

The Minutemen (10-10, 3-4 Atlantic 10) head to Philadelphia this week looking to get back in the win column after consecutive blowout losses against Rhode Island and Saint Louis.

“We had a very good practice today,” UMass coach Matt McCall said Monday. “After a brutally honest film session, I thought they came out today and had a very good practice.”

UMass will probably not get an encore performance from guard Luwane Pipkins, who dropped a school-record 44 points against La Salle (8-12, 2-5 A-10) on Jan. 10; the rematch will see the return of Preseason All-Conference Second-Team selection B.J. Johnson, who was sidelined with an ankle injury the last time the teams met.

Johnson leads the A-10, averaging 20.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this season, and is a perpetual problem on both ends of the floor.

“It just gives them another terrific weapon on the offensive end of the floor, a prolific scorer,” McCall said. “I think we’ll prepare the same way, we prepared like he was playing the last time, it just gives them another dynamic scorer that can put the ball through the net in so many different ways.”

To compound the problems for UMass, the Explorers are getting their best big man back as the Minutemen are losing theirs—center Rashaan Holloway has been ruled academically ineligible for the spring semester, and will miss the remainder of the season.

“We’ve won some games without him, we’ve lost some games without him, we just got to continue to get better,” McCall said. “The situation is what it is, it’s not ideal, and you feel for Rashaan and the game being taken away from him, but there’s certain things you have to do to be able to play. It’s a privilege, not a right.”

The biggest adjustment UMass needs to make comes early in the game, as a poor start in the first leg nearly sunk the Minutemen two weeks back. Barring another superhuman effort from Pipkins down the stretch, they’ll need to come out of the gates with greater purpose on Wednesday to avoid a third straight loss.

“Anytime you play on the road, you’ve got to find ways to get off to good starts,” McCall said. “Offensively we’ve got to take care of the ball. Against Rhode Island we didn’t take care of the ball, we just kind of handed it to them on a couple possessions. We’ve got to make sure we’re taking good shots, finishing around he basket, and take good care of the basketball.”

The Minutemen also need to find a way to combat the post play that killed them over the weekend, when Saint Louis continually backed down on UMass guards to great success.

“[La Salle] is going to try to post us, they’re going to try to post our smaller guards, that’s been every team,” McCall said. “We did an awful job against Saint Louis post defense-wise, and they’re going to try to do that against us as well, and we’ve got to be much better there.”

Tip-off on Wednesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at La Salle’s Tom Gola arena.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected]u and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.