A look back: Minutemen go high and low for spot in Final Four

  • University of Massachusetts center Marcus Camby is all alone near the basket as he finishes this second half alley-oop at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday March 23, 1996. Massachusetts defeated Georgetown 86-62, and will advance to the Final Four in New Jersey. (AP Photo/Andrew Innerarity) AP

  • Georgetown guard Allen Iverson hangs on the rim after slamming against Massachusetts at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday March 23, 1996. Looking on are Massachusetts guard Edgar Padilla (12) Georgetown’s Othella Harrington (50), and Massachusetts center Marcus Camby (21). Massachusetts defeated Georgetown 86-62 and will advance to the Final Four in New Jersey. (AP Photo/Andrew Innerarity) AP

  • University of Massachusetts players celebrate after beating Georgetown Saturday, March 23, 1996 in the NCAA East Regionals in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) AP

Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 2:22:49 PM

Editor’s note: With the NCAA Tournament canceled, the Gazette looks back to when UMass made its run to the 1996 Final Four. Below is the game story when UMass beat Georgetown in the Elite Eight on March 23, 1996. This story appeared in the Gazette on March 25, 1996.

ATLANTA — University of Massachusetts guard Carmelo Travieso paused for a moment and considered the question. What exactly did it mean to get the Final Four?

“It’s something you dream about when you’re young,” Travieso said. “You practice every day for it. And now it’s here – we’re at the Final Four.! It’s unbelievable.”

Believe it.

UMass punched the first Final Four ticket in both school and Atlantic 10 Conference history Saturday night, dismantling a powerful Georgetown team 86-62 at the Georgia Dome.

“I’m just pleased for these guys here,” said UMass coach John Calipari. “They worked so hard. This is their reward. And it’s not over yet.”

The top-ranked Minutemen will now meet No. 2 Kentucky in the national semifinals at the Meadowlands on Saturday at approximately 8:15 p.m. on CBS. The other semifinal, tipping off at 5:42, will match yesterday’s regional winners, Mississippi State and Syracuse. The championship game will be played Monday night.

UMass’ win over the Hoyas was shocking in its thoroughness. The Minutemen absolutely took apart big, bad Georgetown, a team that had been widely picked to make to the Meadowlands.

The Hoya mystique, built on a relentless style of play from a physically and psychologically imposing roster, quickly crumbled before a uniquely focused UMass squad. The Minutemen somehow out-toughed Georgetown. When explosive guard Allen Iverson started complaining to officials that UMass was too physical, it was clear that the Minutemen were on their way.

East Regional Most Outstanding Player Marcus Camby scored 22 points to pace the starters, including eight in the first three minutes of the second half when UMass pulled away.

“We knew we had to pick it up,” said Camby. “We were in the same position last year (in an Elite Eight loss to Oklahoma State). We were up at halftime and we came out kind of flat. So I took it upon myself to try to make things happen.”

As good as Camby was, though, he was just one of several stars in Constellation Minuteman. The guard play in particular was outstanding. Travieso and Edgar Padilla dominated the vaunted Hoya backcourt of first-team All-America Iverson and Big East Tournament MVP Victor Page.

Travieso hounded Iverson all over the court, limiting him to 6-21 shooting (23 points), just one assist and five turnovers. Page was completely thwarted by Padilla, forced into a scoreless game.

“They shut us down defensively at times when we needed to score,” Iverson said.

The defensive lock-up jobs didn’t take the UMass guards out of the offense, either. Travieso was stupendous with 20 points (6-13 from 3-point land), a game-high six assists and just one turnover.

UMass forwards played a significant role as well with Donta Bright (17 points), Dana Dingle (10) and Tyrone Weeks (a team-high eight rebounds) more than holding their own against Georgetown’s alleged physical superiority.

UMass opened up as much as a 14-point lead in the first half. The Minutemen then hit a sloppy stretch where the Hoya press began to force some turnovers. By the break UMass led by just four, 38-34.

The situation did bear a resemblance to the Oklahoma State game, which the Minutemen led by five points at halftime. Just a good 20 minutes would have meant a trip to the Final Four. They didn’t get there.

This time would be different. In a moment that proved rife with symbolism, Georgetown walked stoically back toward the court while UMass, emerging moments later, jogged right past the Hoyas, getting to the court first.

“We always run to the court,” said Padilla. “We always run after timeouts, to show people that we’re still working hard. We’re not tired. We’re not letting down.”

And all momentum Georgetown had going in to the half was promptly obliterated by a barrage of hoops from Camby. UMass quickly extended the lead to double digits and never faced a serious challenge the rest of the way.

“That’s a sign of their greatness, I think,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson. “They’re poised. They didn’t panic when we made a run. They don’t rattle. They don’t beat themselves.”

As the clock began to tick down, the 35-1 Minutemen got a sense of the scope of their achievement.

“It was like I was in a trance,” said freshman guard Charlton Clarke. “Once the horn went off, I knew it was time to celebrate. But when the clock was winding down, I didn’t want it to end, because it felt so good.”

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