The fourth-best start in the history of Massachusetts basketball is over, but the 23rd-ranked Minutemen aren't dwelling on their first loss.
They're using it as fuel to move forward.UMass could have a tricky time doing so Saturday night as it opens a four-game homestand against a Providence team it beat at the buzzer last season.The Minutemen (10-1) won their first 10 games for the first time since the 1995-96 team opened 26-0, averaging 89.3 points and shooting 55.5 percent in their last three before last Saturday's Orange Bowl Classic against Florida State in Sunrise, Fla.UMass' offensive efficiency disappeared against the Seminoles. It shot a season-worst 33.3 percent, missed 14 of 15 3-pointers and had 17 turnovers to just eight assists in a 60-55 defeat."We know how it feels to lose a game now," said center Cady Lalanne, who scored 10 points and tied a career high with 15 rebounds. "It's motivation."The Minutemen shouldn't have to be particularly motivated to recognize they could be in for a test against the Friars (10-2). They needed a buzzer-beating tip-in to knock off Providence last season in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, the regional rivals' first meeting since 2000.The Friars had a 12-day break after a 50-49 win at Rhode Island on Dec. 5, and have bounced back offensively to score a combined 170 points in home wins over Yale and Maine."I thought we played well offensively again," coach Ed Cooley said after Providence's 94-70 win over the Black Bears last Saturday. "The last two games we've had a lot of breakdowns defensively that we're gonna have to clean up. But overall, we've executed an offensive gameplan in back-to-back games."Those defensive breakdowns to which Cooley was referring came largely in the second halves. Yale and Maine combined to shoot 61.5 percent after intermission.The Friars prefer to play a more deliberate style, while UMass would love to speed things up. That's largely thanks to the presence of point guard Chaz Williams, one of only three players in the nation to average at least 15.0 points and 7.0 assists.Williams struggled against the Seminoles, turning it over four times and posting only three assists -- his first negative ratio of the season -- but he was the catalyst against Providence last season. Williams had 17 points, six rebounds and six assists to offset five turnovers in that victory.Lalanne, one of three players in the country averaging 14.0 points, 10.0 boards and 2.5 blocks, had eight points and five rebounds last season against the Friars before fouling out.UMass has held opponents to 40.7 percent shooting, bad news for a Providence team that shoots 41.5 percent from the field to rank 291st in the nation.The Friars rely heavily on Bryce Cotton, and lately, the senior guard has been on his game. He had 22 points and 10 assists against Maine, hitting a season-high six 3-pointers in 12 attempts.With Cotton, though, it's often about how well he's getting his teammates involved. Since the start of last season, Providence is 17-3 when Cotton has at least four assists and 12-12 when he posts three or fewer.Cotton had 23 points and five assists in the loss to UMass last season.Providence defeated ranked Cincinnati and Notre Dame teams last season, but it hasn't beaten a Top 25 team away from home since knocking off No. 4 UConn in January 2004.The Friars have lost their last 27 on the road against ranked opponents.