Dec. 10, 2004
If a coach has ever gotten a big win in the preconference schedule, it's Steve Lappas of Massachusetts. Lappas' Minutemen stunned top-10 and defending national champion Connecticut on Thursday night. After losing 13 straight meetings to coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies, there was joy and jubilation in Amherst following the Shock City performance.
The 61-59 upset led to quite a celebration. The enthusiasm, energy and excitement in the arena was something special as I caught the game on ESPN2. You could tell the place was rocking as it was in the John Calipari days.
Why was it such a big game? Lappas has been on the hot seat, with this being the final year of his contract after two years were voided. Lappas has been a winner at Villanova and Manhattan, and I always felt he got a raw deal at 'Nova.
Lappas brings so much spirit to everything he does. Last night was a great moment for the kids from UMass.
Rashaun Freeman is a special player and a major force on the interior. He scored 18 points against the Huskies, including the game-winning shot with 4.3 seconds left. His emotions got the better of him and he ran to celebrate before the game was over. Fortunately for Freeman, UConn's Denham Brown missed a last-second 3-point attempt for the win.
I was impressed with Massachusetts' defense, which came up with 10 steals. The sign of a good team is one that can win despite a suspect shooting night. The Minutemen made just 3-of-19 trifectas but still got to the winner's circle with their passionate, emotional performance.
It should be a good season for Lappas and Co., because the Atlantic 10 has some good but not great teams. I could see UMass being in the mix for A-10 honors, right up there with George Washington.
Lappas is in a must-win situation.
Lappas is in a must-win situation, and while I don't like what happened with those two years of his contract voided, the good news is that he has something to build on with the momentum of this big-time W, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.