UMass prepares for rematch with conference juggernaut URI

Minutemen fell to URI 73-51 on Jan. 17


Caroline O'Connor

By Amin Touri

Stuck in the midst of a four-game slide, things aren’t getting any easier for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, as conference leader No. 22 Rhode Island comes to town on Tuesday.

The Rams (17-3, 9-0 Atlantic 10) remain undefeated in conference play and dispatched the Minutemen (10-12, 3-6 A-10) with relative ease on Jan. 17.

UMass coach Matt McCall, trying to guide his team through its toughest stretch of the season, is hoping that a couple of strong days in the practice gym can translate on the court Tuesday night.

“I think we’ve had two really, really good days of practice,” McCall said. “We’ve kind of changed up what we’re doing in practice. I think as a coach, when you get into the season, you get consumed and caught up with scouting and what the other team’s doing and how we’re going to guard them and how we’re going to take them out of the game. We really got to focus more on ourselves, and we got to compete more and have the right mindset.”

The Minutemen are nearing free fall after four consecutive losses to URI, Saint Louis, La Salle and Fordham.

“The disappointing thing for me is not the losses,” said McCall, “it’s our competitive fight and spirit. It’s not about wins and losses right now, it’s about getting better. No one wants to win more than I do, I want to win every game we line up to play. We’re going into every game with less, which is okay, but we have to compete at a high level and that’s where I’ve been frustrated.”

Tuesday night is a conference rematch after URI took the first meeting 73-51 two weeks ago, when the Minutemen fell into a 20-point hole at halftime that they would never recover from. UMass was careless with the ball all evening offensively, giving the Rams a plethora of chances on the break.

“I thought when we got them in the half court we did a terrific job guarding them,” McCall said. “The problem was that our offense didn’t handle their pressure. We allowed them to speed us up, we panicked, we turned it over 19 times. When you turn it over against an explosive team like that, it’s hard to win.”

The Rams debuted in the AP Top 25 poll last week and jumped to No. 22 this week, earning national recognition for the ease with which they’ve torn through the A-10. McCall agreed that URI is probably the best team the Minutemen will face all season.

“What’s their weak spot?…There isn’t one,” said McCall. “I just think they’ve got depth, they’re older, they’ve got terrific guards, they’ve got terrific frontcourt players — I mean top to bottom.  Any time you have experienced guys with talent, its tough to beat.”

Facing a stacked Rams team that perpetually punished UMass on the fast break, the Minutemen will need to take care of the basketball and come out with real purpose on Tuesday to have any shot at an upset.

“I think we’re just going to try and be more aggressive,” said freshman Carl Pierre. “When we played them the first time, we were on our heels, we weren’t aggressive, we were just kind of timid. I think tomorrow we’re going to try and come out just firing.”

Tuesday’s game is slated for an earlier timeslot than usual, a 6:30 p.m. tip at the Mullins Center.

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