One thing I'm not ever worried about is our guys quitting.

AMHERST --  UMass played at Curry Hicks Cage for the first time since 1993 and no one seemed more excited about it than Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg. 

"It was great to be back in the Cage and see it rocking and rolling," said Kellogg, who started the final game in the Cage on Jan. 29, 1993. "It brought back a lot of old school memories." 

The 4,000-seat gym was home to UMass basketball from 1932-93 before the Minutemen moved to the Mullins Center. 

UMass junior backup center Sean Carter's back-to-back dunks with 8 minutes to play put the Minutemen up by 24 points against Holy Cross and got yesterday afternoon's crowd of 3,395 going, but the Crusaders roared back, outscoring UMass, 26-6, to get within four with 1:39 left. 

Senior Anthony Gurley and Carter combined for four straight free throws in the final seconds and the Minutemen closed out the Crusaders, 83-76. 

UMass is 6-0 for the first time since 1995-96, its Final Four season. Holy Cross, playing the fourth of five straight road games, fell to 0-5. 

"I'm not a moral-victory guy," HC coach Milan Brown said, "and I told the guys, 'Let's not get used to this.' But we took some steps against a very good team, and if we can keep doing that, it's eventually going to turn." 

Gurley, the Minutemen's leading scorer in all six games this year, poured in a game-high 24 points. Sophomore guard Freddie Riley came off the bench to add 17. 

Junior guard Devin Brown led HC with 18 points. He was 11 for 11 at the free-throw line. Senior forward Andrew Keister had his second double-double of the year with 16 points and 11 rebounds. 

Holy Cross trailed at intermission, 35-29, and senior guard Andrew Beinert's 3-pointer kept the Crusaders within six points 4 minutes into the second half. With 15:40 to play, sophomore forward Sampson Carter started UMass on a 16-4 run. Riley sank back-to-back 3s, and at the end of the spurt, the Minutemen converted on a pair of HC turnovers to take a 60-42 lead with 11:45 to play. 

UMass extended the lead to 70-46 after the second of Carter's slams with 8:21 left. 

Brown, R.J. Evans and Beinert combined to score 11 straight points for Holy Cross. 

"We thought we had it going," Gurley said, "we thought the game was ours, but just like every other team, they didn't give up. They kept fighting and made their run." 

The Crusaders continued to push the tempo and kept it going with Brown nailing eight free-throw attempts in a row, Beinert banking in a 3, and Keister making a layup to cut the UMass lead to 76-72. 

"Coach has been preaching to us no matter what the circumstances, we just never give up," Devin Brown said. "We knew we weren't going to get all 24 points back at one time. We just wanted to keep getting one stop and execute our offense and keep playing hard." 

After Keister's basket, Gurley found Carter underneath for a layup, and at the other end Carter swatted away a shot by Beinert as he went to the hoop. 

"I thought we came out with good energy and played a good 32-minute game," Kellogg said. "We didn't finish them off like we needed to. I'm not sure if I subbed a few guys or I kind of pulled back the reins trying to just come away with the win, but Holy Cross did a great job coming back." 

UMass has been a strong defensive team this season. Its first five opponents averaged 58.6 points and 36 percent shooting from the field. HC shot 55 percent in the second half and 48 percent for the game, the highest by any UMass foe this year. 

However, the Minutemen forced a season-high 19 turnovers by Holy Cross and converted them into 26 points. 

At the 11-minute mark of the first half, UMass amped up its defense and pressed the Crusaders, leading to an 11-0 run. Riley got hot from outside, sinking back-to-back 3s, and Gurley scored consecutive baskets to help UMass to a 23-13 lead with 9 minutes left. 

Junior guard Mike Cavataio, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, kept HC in it, though, following up a Devin Brown miss, then driving for a dunk. Cavataio converted a traditional 3-point play later in the half. 

"(Coming back) definitely shows where our heart is," Milan Brown said. "One thing I'm not ever worried about is our guys quitting. We made some adjustments to get back in the game and once we had some positive plays happen, all of a sudden the shoe's on the other foot and they're more apprehensive and we're more aggressive. 

"They're a very good team. I was very proud of the guys. I thought we took a step as a team today, for sure." 

Minutemen are all the rage in the Cage

By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / November 28, 2010
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AMHERST -- Last week, Derek Kellogg mapped out his strategy for creating a culture of winning at his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. "This is new UMass,'' said the coach, who played on four straight NCAA Tournament teams in the 1990s. "We've had the glory years. This is our new identity -- live off the history, but let's build our own history.''

Yesterday, that new building involved returning to the old building -- a Back to the Future script that saw UMass knock off Holy Cross, 83-76, at Curry Hicks Cage. It was the first game for UMass at the Cage since 1993, when Kellogg was the point guard.

"It was great to be back in the Cage,'' said Kellogg. "What a treat for the players to have a really jammed environment, to have kind of an old-school game.''

With no students on campus, many of the near-capacity crowd of 3,395 came from a generation that remembers the intense atmosphere of this quirky cauldron that housed UMass basketball for more than 60 years. A number of former players came back, including Harper Williams, Kellogg's former teammate and the Minutemen's first star player when they started getting good a generation ago.

Long ago, the Cage was laid out on a dirt floor. That meant games were occasionally delayed by a wayward squirrel, and officials had to wipe clean basketballs that went far out of bounds. Jack Leaman's regionally great teams in the '70s once held local crowds transfixed with players such as Julius Erving (known as "Julie the Jumping Jack'') and "Slick'' Rick Pitino.

Then came the dark days of the late '70s and '80s, which involved 11 straight losing seasons and an almost unfathomable 29 straight defeats at one point. In John Calipari's first game as a head coach in 1988, the scoreboard at the Cage starting smoking, and score had to be kept by flip charts.

The team began winning in torrents, though, and ultimately outgrew the old facility. The Mullins Center opened in 1993, and for years the Minutemen filled it to its 9,493-seat capacity.

But those days passed, too, and now Kellogg has returned to try to reignite the fire. After two straight losing seasons to start his head coaching career, with Mullins crowds often under 3,000, Kellogg went retro yesterday, and the results were impressive. With the Minutemen sporting throwback uniforms from 1994-97, UMass recorded its sixth straight win to start the season -- the best start since the Final Four team of 1995-96.

No one is confusing the squads, of course. That team began not just 6-0, but 26-0. Those Minutemen prided themselves on Calipari's trademark scheduling philosophy of "Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.'' In their first half-dozen games (one played in Michigan, two in Maryland), UMass knocked off top-ranked Kentucky, No. 10 Wake Forest, and No. 19 Maryland.

This year's 6-0 squad has yet to play a game outside of Western Massachusetts, and the competition has been relatively soft. At 0-5, Holy Cross fits the bill, though the young Crusaders (led by Devin Brown's 18 points) did show lots of pluck in closing a 24-point, second-half deficit to 4 late in the game.

But make no mistake, lots of UMass teams of recent vintage would not be close to undefeated against this slate.

"I just hope they're not getting overconfident,'' said Kellogg. "I think we're an OK basketball team to a good basketball team. We're not anywhere near where we need to be or could be.''

Yesterday, UMass was led by Anthony Gurley with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The senior, who has led UMass in scoring every game this season, enjoyed playing at the Cage.

"It was a great atmosphere,'' he said. "I had a lot of fun. It actually reminded of my high school days at Newton North.''

UMass also got big contributions from Freddie Riley (17 points in just 17 minutes, including 5-of-9 shooting from behind the arc), Sampson Carter (14 points, five assists), and the unrelated Sean Carter (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks).

"It was a big thing for us [playing here],'' said Sean Carter. "I know there is a lot of history here. A lot of the community came out, which I appreciated . . . People are starting to realize that we're putting a lot of hard work in now. We're winning games and working hard.''

UMass will get a better sense of itself this week, traveling to take on a solid Quinnipiac team Wednesday, then heading to TD Garden to face Boston College Saturday.


UMass will take it

Not satisfied

By Dan Duggan
Sunday, November 28, 2010 - 
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AMHERST - That UMass can now quibble with the nature of its wins is a sign of the progress the program has made.

The Minutemen improved to 6-0 yesterday with an 83-76 win over Holy Cross, but were left with a somewhat bitter taste after nearly squandering a 24-point second-half lead.

"I thought our guys came out with some good energy and played a pretty good 32-minute game," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. "I don't think we finished them off the way we needed to, but it was great to see the Cage rocking and rolling. Everything worked out pretty nicely."


After a pair of Sean Carter dunks, the Minutemen led 70-46 with 8:18 left, sending some of the 3,395 fans at the Curry Hicks Cage to the exits assuming a victory was assured.

But Holy Cross answered with a 26-6 run over the next seven minutes to close the gap to 76-72, thanks largely to leading scorer Devin Brown (18 points).

UMass avoided a complete collapse thanks to a drive and dish from Anthony Gurley to Sampson Carter (14 points) for a layup with 1:05 remaining. The Minutemen then made 5-of-7 free throws in the final minute to hold off the Crusaders (0-5).

The Minutemen are off to the best start since the 1995-96 team advanced to the Final Four.

"It was important that we get off to a good start because it's been a struggle since I've been here as far as who we've played early and how those games have gone," Kellogg said. "To play some games that we can be competitive and have a chance to win, it was nice and it's fantastic to be 6-0."

Though the present and future are the focus, yesterday was nostalgic.

The Minutemen played their first game since 1993 at the Cage, which served as their home from 1931-93. The close confines of the old gym provided a homecourt advantage that has been absent at the Mullins Center recently.

"It was a great atmosphere," Gurley said. "I had a lot of fun out there today. It actually reminded me of high school. The gym is small and it reminded me of my high school days playing back at Newton North."

As he has every game this season, Gurley led UMass in scoring with 24 points. The senior guard got support from reserves Carter and Freddie Riley.

Carter provided his typical defensive presence (seven points, three blocks), but also was a force offensively with 12 points.

"That may have been the best game he's played since he's been here," Kellogg said. "I thought Sean was great."

Riley poured in 17 points, using his lightning-quick release to knock down 5-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.

"He hit outside shots, ran the floor and got layups," Gurley said. "He was definitely a big boost for us."


UMass returns to Curry Hicks Cage -- for single game


It seems a little odd for officials with a Division I basketball program to be asked whether they're considering a move to a arena seating less than 4,000, but UMass basketball need a shot in the arm -- which may have came when the Minutemen hosted Holy Cross atCurry Hicks Cage.

Curry Hicks Cage opened in 1932 and originally sported a dirt floor, upon which a wood court would be laid for a basketball game or other special event. It's not very large -- a crowd of 3,395 pretty much filled the place Saturday -- but it certainly is historic, and it certainly is old. There are some who would like to see UMass basketball move back to Curry Hicks Cage, as the program has been in decline at the box office. (Indeed, the Curry Hicks Cage crowd was the second-largest of the season so far.)

But it's highly unlikely the Minutemen will retun to Curry Hicks Cage anytime soon, according to athletic director John McCutcheonMullins Center was built because the Minutemen outgrew Curry Hicks Cage in the mid-1990s, and when the program rebounds they'll need that arena's capacity. Still, it's fun to see college basketball still being played at such a historic old arena like Curry Hicks Cage.