UMass uses time off wisely, readies for Northern Illinois
AMHERST — Describing what college basketball is like during semester break to freshman Trey Davis, University of Massachusetts sophomore center Cady Lalanne likened it to being a professional.
“This is the only time it feels kind of like you’re in the NBA,” Lalanne said. “All you do is travel, play games and practice.”
Lalanne and the Minutemen left Friday morning for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Northern Illinois. He thought the break between semesters came at a good juncture of the season.
“This is the perfect time for all of us to melt together and be the team we know we can be,” said Lalanne, who thought the team’s four-game winning streak was giving that improvement momentum. “It’s been a big step in that direction. We’re starting to play more as a team. We’re getting each other involved. We’re starting to turn it up a notch on defense. Coach preaches every day in practice that defense wins games. We’re starting to play our style of basketball. It’s very critical to play well and win these games. You gotta have a head of steam going into conference play. You can’t go in there losing games. It only gets harder. It’s time for us to focus and win these games.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he’s tried to establish a routine to maximize the additional time the team has together.
“We’re able to go twice a day, one being a more mental workout where we can walk through our plays and talk about the other teams and do some film work,” he said. “We’ll go pretty hard during the day. Some guys actually have class during this winter session. I have to make sure I take that into consideration.”
Lalanne, who has been effective coming off the bench since returning from his suspension earlier in the month, felt like he has benefitted from the added workouts.
“I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable. It’s all getting in shape. I was trying to do too much and it’s a lot harder when you’re out of shape. When you’re in shape, everything feels a lot easier, more fluid. It looks a lot better when I’m watching it on tape,” Lalanne said. “I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since I’ve been here, but I’m not fully in shape yet. I want to be and I’m working towards that. I feel a lot better.”
Lalanne’s lost stamina has come from back-to-back offseasons where he’s battled foot problems. He said he hasn’t quite shaken being concerned about re-injuring it.
“It feels like it’s in the past. If I feel a jolt here and there, it gets my attention a little bit,” he said. “But I try, as much as possible, to just forget about it and keep it in the past. The big thing now is get over the mental state of thinking about my foot.”
The Minutemen (7-3) will arrive in DeKalb, Ill., as the highest profile nonconference home game on NIU’s schedule. The Huskies (2-9) have played just four home games. Their wins came against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, which is in its first full season as a Division I team, and Judson University, an NAIA school.
The Huskies have been better lately with the addition of Abdel Nader. The 6-foot-7 sophomore was suspended for the first seven games of the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Over the last four games, the native of Egypt has averaged 15.0 points per game, including 20 in a 69-64 loss at DePaul and 18 in a 67-57 loss to Washington.
“It looks like they’ve gotten better,” Kellogg said. “Their leading scorer got eligible and they’ve played much better since then. To go on the road at this time of year presents its own challenges for a team like us.”
The Minutemen are 2-0 in true road games with tight wins over Siena and Northeastern, both of whom were struggling.
“I like that we’ve won two games against two teams that are much better at home, but by the same token, it’s not like we’ve been able to put anybody away,” Kellogg said. “Being 2-0 on the road is a good record. We’re going to try to build on that and see what happens.”
The game starts a three-game stretch against Mid-American Conference opponents. As part of UMass’ agreement to become an associate MAC member in football, the men’s and women’s basketball teams will annually play four games against MAC teams. The Minutemen will play at Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday at host Eastern Michigan on Jan. 5. They beat Ohio 85-76 on Dec. 19 in their first MAC game.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.