Thursday, March 07, 2002

UMass has chip on its shoulder

Minutemen feel XU showed them up

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — It took until the final game of the regular season for Xavier to meet Massachusetts. It took only until XU's next game for one side to make this a grudge match.

        The Minutemen seethed Saturday after losing by 20 points in Cintas Center, both because they felt they could have won and out of anger with what they perceived as excessive celebration by XU.

        “That got to me,” UMass senior center Kitwana Rhymer said. “I know it was their Senior Day, but I thought it went a little too far.”

        UMass (13-15) gets its shot at revenge against the 24th-ranked Musketeers (22-5) today in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals at the First Union Spectrum. The Minutemen, who vowed after the loss Saturday that they would meet XU again, earned that right Wednesday by beating George Washington 73-62.

        UMass' beef began with its claim that XU kept most of its starters on the floor into the final minute and kept up a running game. Much of XU's celebration came because of a rare basket by senior walk-on James Baronas with 14 seconds left.

        “Hey, they wanted to keep scoring at the end,” UMass coach Steve Lappas told the Boston Herald. “That's all right. It's their party.”

        Three UMass players told their local beat writers Wednesday that XU forward Kevin Frey made an insulting comment to Lappas in the final minute of the game. Lappas had no comment Wednesday.

        And the Minutemen said they were miffed about XU cutting down the net after the victory, even though the Musketeers were celebrating the league title.

        Frey, who wasn't available for reaction to the claim he insulted Lappas, said earlier Wednesday that he took UMass' cries for a rematch as flattery.

        “That's good,” he said. “That means we've earned the right for teams to get pumped up and want to play us.”

        That, UMass is. The Minutemen felt they outplayed XU in the first half, after which they trailed by six points despite shooting 50 percent. XU dominated thereafter, holding UMass to 21.4 percent shooting (6-of-28) after halftime.

        “They're a great team, but ... we definitely could have beat them,” UMass senior guard Shannon Crooks said of XU. “Guys are ticked.”

        The Minutemen have been underachieving since their 4-0 start, which included victories over Oregon and North Carolina State. They shot only 39.4 percent in league play, ranking 10th in the A-10. The front line of 6-foot-10 Rhymer (8.9 ppg) and 6-11 Micah Brand (9.1) that keyed two victories over XU last season has been inconsistent at best. Brand shot just 33 percent in league play.

        “Who knows what that is,” Lappas said of his players' talk of beating XU. “They're kids. All I know is Xavier absolutely drilled us last weekend.”

        XU coach Thad Matta said he expects the Minutemen's bluster will be backed up.

        “When you're the No.1 seed, you're gonna get everyone's best shot,” Matta said.


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