Chaz Williams of the University of Massachusetts, right, drives to the basket ahead of Anthony Jackson of Stony Brook Wednesday at the Mullins Center. JERREY ROBERTS
SPRINGFIELD — On most nights over the past three seasons, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team has been able to count on its opponent’s energy eventually lagging against its running, pressing and trapping style.
The Minutemen have played few foes that want to match the tempo they want to play and often late in games, their opponents will get a little slower, a little sloppier and have a little less lift in their jump shots allowing UMass to pull ahead or pull away.
The Minutemen won’t have that advantage Saturday when they face Brigham Young, at 1:30 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at the MassMutual Center.
BYU arrived at 7-2, a mark that includes wins over Stanford and Texas. The Cougars’ two losses came against Iowa State and Wichita State, which are both ranked in the top 25. The Cougars want to push the tempo more than the Minutemen do. BYU is averaging 89.2 points per game, good for ninth in the nation on the strength of 81.1 possessions per game (seventh in the nation).
“We have to come out and play a solid 40 minutes of basketball,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose team averages 81.6 points on 74.0 possessions. “We can’t rely on the ability to wear them down. It’s a little bit different than our usual philosophy. But that happens when you play the ninth-rated RPI team in the country. You’re going to have to play a really good game and be smart.”
Kellogg said he’s comfortable slowing the pace if it’s warranted.
“I think it’ll be flow of the game. If it looks like it’s getting out of hand or if they’re faster and scoring easier than we are, then we need to slow it down and get it inside,” Kellogg said. “I do think we have some guys inside that can score.”
Inside figures to be a matchup that could have a huge impact on the game. UMass junior big man Cady Lalanne will tangle with Cougar freshman Eric Mika, who is averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Lalanne’s 6.0 offensive rebounds per game leads the nation. BYU will play mostly zone defense, which by nature is hard to rebound out of. The Minutemen will count on getting continued production on the offensive glass.
BYU has relied on getting to the free-throw line and is averaging 8.0 more attempts than its opponents.
“That’s something we’d like to not have happen. They do a good job of creating contact and playing angles,” Kellogg said. “We need to stay out of foul trouble to keep them off the free-throw line.”
Junior guard Tyler Haws has been BYU’s most productive scorer at the free-throw line (57 for 66, 86.4 percent) and off of it (23.6 ppg). Haws, Matt Carlino (17.4 ppg) and Kyle Collinsworth (11.9 ppg) give the Cougars a formidable perimeter.
Kellogg has won five straight in his hometown of Springfield and was excited to play their against a team of BYU’s caliber. The game is expected to be at or near a sellout.
“Any time you can bring your team back to your hometown is good,” Kellogg said. “It’s also good for the city. It’s good all around. As the team’s gotten better and the team has risen to a certain level people have gotten more excited. This is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work for our program. Getting a team of BYU’s caliber to come to Springfield is something that’s been on my mind for a long time.”
Playing a team of BYU’s caliber in any venue is another opportunity for the Minutemen to add to their resume for NCAA tournament consideration down the road, a point not lost on UMass sophomore guard Trey Davis.
“It’s a must win game. We can’t lose that one. We’ve got to keep going forward,” he said. “Why not win all of them? Every game we’re getting stronger as a team, coming together more. That’s the motto — ‘Why not win all of them?’”