Republican: UMass Returns To Cage Saturday - UMass Athletics

Republican: UMass Returns To Cage Saturday

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The Springfield Republican has a nice preview of the UMass-Holy Cross game at the Curry Hicks Cage on Saturday.

To the players, it has been a place to practice when the Mullins Center is not available. To older fans, it was home to Julius Erving, Al Skinner and Jack Leaman, and where John Calipari first forged his coaching identity.

Nearly 18 years after the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team abandoned Curry Hicks Cage as a prime tenant, the 4,058-seat barn retains a beloved place in school annals.

Nearly 18 years after it left the Cage, UMass basketball team returns Saturday

Published: Friday, November 26, 2010, 12:11 PM     Updated: Friday, November 26, 2010, 7:50 PM
Ron Chimelis, The Republican Ron Chimelis, The Republican 
Anthony GurleyAnthony Gurley is averaging 21.2 points a game to lead UMass (5-0), which plays Holy Cross at Curry Hicks Cage Saturday afternoon.

AMHERST - To the players, it has been a place to practice when the Mullins Center is not available.

To older fans, it was home to Julius Erving, Al Skinner and Jack Leaman, and where John Calipari first forged his coaching identity.

Nearly 18 years after the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team abandoned Curry Hicks Cage as a prime tenant, the 4,058-seat barn retains a beloved place in school annals.

It is that distinction, and a cozier atmosphere that can make modest crowds seem loud and large, that UMass hopes will produce a memorable atmosphere Saturday afternoon.

The Minutemen take a 5-0 record against Holy Cross (0-4). The Cage's first regular season game since Feb. 29, 1993 will start at 3.

UMass beat Southwest Louisiana 84-74 in that 1993 game. The Mullins Center opened the following week.

Off to its best start in 15 years, UMass is looking for ways to stir up interest on a holiday weekend with most students home.

The Minutemen are averaging 2,412 fans for five games, three at the Mullins Center and two in Springfield.

The Mullins games have averaged 2,758. A victory over American International Wednesday drew 2,116, the second smallest turnout since the arena opened.

Derek Kellogg began his college playing career at the Cage, which served as home to UMass teams for more than 60 years.

The current UMass coach played nearly two years in the older building before the Mullins Center opened. In his freshman year, UMass beat West Virginia 88-80 for the 1992 Atlantic 10 Conference title at Curry Hicks.

That launched a run of five straight A-10 titles for the Minutemen.

The sentimental appeal of the Cage has grown with the years. Perhaps that is because it was home when the Minutemen rose to become a regional and then national power, an innocent and unexpected run during Calipari's first years as coach.

In recent years, some basketball events have taken place at the Cage, including one preseason game. The women's team has played an occasional game there, but this will mark the formal return of the men's team, at least for one game.

The memories are so warm that it's easy to forget the building did not always represent a packed, winning atmosphere. Former UMass coach Bruiser Flint has often told a story of his memory as a visiting player from Saint Joseph's, when a stray pass went into the bleachers.

A player had to climb into the stands to retrieve it, because that area of the stands was totally empty and there were no fans to throw it back.

The building's history nonetheless remains cherished, and many well-known former players will return Saturday.

The list includes Harper Williams, a star center in the final Cage years, and Peter Trow, a 1976 graduate who roomed with UMass guard Rick Pitino on Leaman's teams.

Ed McGrath, a 1949 graduate, is the oldest player expected back. Several standouts from the 1950s and subsequent decades will also return.

The presence of Holy Cross adds a storied rival to a retro day. The teams first met in 1908. 

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