Saturday, January 18, 2003

UMass men's program falls on hard times

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AMHERST, Mass. - The 1995-96 Final Four season is a distant memory around the University of Massachusetts campus these days.

It has been replaced by six years of mediocrity and an asterisk that says the Final Four appearance never even happened because of some academic failures and lavish gifts received by star player Marcus Camby.

"We feel good about building something back up here," said UMass coach Steve Lappas, in his second year on the job after spending nine seasons at Villanova.

Lappas replaced embattled coach Bruiser Flint, who took over for John Calipari following the tarnished Final Four season and was unable to win more than 21 games in any of his five seasons. Flint left the program in such destitute shape that Lappas could muster only 13 wins last season, the worst in 13 years in Amherst.

Today, when Massachusetts hosts Xavier (11-4, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at 6 p.m. at Mullins Center, the Minutemen will feature a starting lineup that Lappas points to as the program's future. Specifically, it includes freshman Jeff Viggiano and sophomore Gabe Lee. Freshman Michael Lasme, a starter, will miss the next three weeks after undergoing surgery Friday to repair a broken wrist suffered Wednesday in a loss to Rhode Island.

But Lappas is still excited about the youngsters who helped UMass (6-9, 0-3) rebound from a 1-5 start.

"I've been encouraged by the freshmen," Lappas said. "I didn't like what I was seeing from some of the older guys. When you're building a program, you have to make decisions about where you're going."

So ousted from the starting lineup are juniors Marcus Cox and Raheim Lamb, although they might play more with Lasme injured. Senior Micah Brand is out with an ankle injury.

Lappas said he had no reservations about replacing upperclassmen with freshmen and sophomores. It needed to be done.

"They brought me in here to build a program," Lappas said. "And at every program I've been at, I've left it better than when I got there."

The Minutemen haven't won an A-10 game this season, and it doesn't get any easier against Xavier, the defending conference champion.

The last time the Musketeers, ranked 23rd in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, made the trip to Amherst two seasons ago, they lost 59-49 loss.

The Musketeers went 6-2 in conference road games last season, relying on an us-against-the-world mentality, said sophomore Keith Jackson.

This season, Xavier has looked like a different team on the road, where it has lost two of its four games. XUalso lost to Mississippi State on a neutral floor at Madison Square Garden.

"We have to bring the energy we need from the beginning of the game," Jackson said. "(In the losses), we waited until the second half to try to pick it up, and by then it was too late. They were all good teams, and they were trying to knock us out by then."

Because Xavier lost at home to Richmond to open the A-10 season, coach Thad Matta said it's necessary to get back a win on the road.

"That's what you have to do to win the conference," Matta said. "You have to sneak in and get a couple road wins."


Xavier at UMass

Tipoff: 6 p.m. today, Mullins Center (9,493), Amherst, Mass.

Records: Xavier 11-4 (2-1 Atlantic 10), UMass 6-9 (0-3).

Radio: WLW-AM (700).


Series: Series tied 6-6.


Keith JacksonSo.6-56.4
Romain SatoJr.6-516.1
Dedrick FinnFr.6-15.5
David WestSr.6-919.1
Anthony MylesJr.6-99.1
Coach: Thad Matta (37-10, second season; 61-18 overall).


Jackie RogersSr.6-813.4
Jeff ViggianoFr.6-65.8
Gabe LeeSo.6-94.8
Raheim LambJr.6-64.1
Ant. AndersonJr.5-119.9
Coach: Steve Lappas (19-25, second season; 249-197


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