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UMass defense still a work in progress

  • Luwane Pipkins, left, head coach Matt McCall and the UMass men’s basketball team host New Hampshire, Friday at 7 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

AMHERST — The cliché is a team makes the most improvement from the first game to the second one.

It’s always easier when that team is coming off a win like UMass is after defeating UMass-Lowell 83-75 on Tuesday. But victories can also hide some of the bigger areas of concern because the mistakes weren’t costly in the final result.

Then there are coaches like the Minutemen’s Matt McCall, who marched into his postgame press conference and began with admitting his team’s defense wasn’t good enough.

“The biggest thing is we have to get our defense corrected,” McCall said after the game. “Seventy-five points is way too many especially when they shoot 26 percent from the 3-point line but they shoot 40 percent from the floor. I thought a lot of it was in transition.”

The transition defense was a problem the River Hawks exploited by increasing the tempo and sending the Minutemen into scramble mode after made baskets. Oftentimes, UMass was too concerned about finding its own man to guard that Lowell was able to cruise to easy baskets or uncontested shots because there was no defender positioned to slow down the play.

The transition game was particularly vulnerable because the Minutemen could not establish their press effectively. UMass was unable to set up its traps or tried to execute them too far down the court, something Lowell easily was able to pass around and avoid.

“We didn’t get anything out of our press,” McCall said Tuesday. “We’d try to go run and trap, and our (forwards) were late and they kept trying to trap across half court, and you can’t do that.”

UMass was hardly solid five-on-five, either, especially in the first half when the teams consistently traded baskets even as the Minutemen held on to a slight lead. Good defensive possessions were followed by breakdowns that led to layups or dunks. That was most notable during a 9-0 Lowell run that spanned less than 90 seconds and erased a nine-point UMass lead it created with getting stops on defense.

McCall said he thought his team took some unnecessary risks that left the Minutemen at a disadvantage with how the rotations were forced to play out.

“We got to be more solid and disciplined, especially when we’re in coverage, of not gambling on the weak side of the floor as much,” McCall said. “We did that some and we were in rotations. We’ve got to try to stay out of that, to was almost like a scramble drill. We need to stay out of rotations and be more solid.”

Sophomore guard Carl Pierre said he thought UMass was too quiet on defense at times, which he said is a correctable issue.

“We can always work on just being more disciplined,” Pierre said. “There’s never a point where you’re good enough, you always have to improve. Being disciplined on defense and talking more, those are some of the things we need to work on.”

The good news for UMass (1-0) is that it has had two days to pour over the film before hosting New Hampshire on Friday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats drubbed Division III Rivier University 108-54 in their opener and return 10 players off last year’s 10-21 squad.

The encouraging part for McCall is that there is still a lot of growth potential for the Minutemen with how new the team still is in his eyes. UMass has four transfers, three freshmen and fifth-year senior Rashaan Holloway – who missed the second half of last season due to academic suspension – still trying to adjust to playing within McCall’s system and with one another.

“We’ll cut this up and there will be a lot we can take from it and a lot we can teach out of it and we’ll get better,” McCall said. “We’re not playing our best basketball right now, if we were we should be concerned. I felt like last year, we peaked (for) Providence and Georgia. We’ve got to peak (for) George Mason, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, we need to be playing our best ball in January, February, March.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.