WICHITA, Kan. -- They appeared a step slow and somewhat jittery early in the first half, yet still jumped out to a 7-point lead. It figured that once the University of Massachusetts got into the flow of its offense and stepped up its intensity, the Minutemen would dispose of Southwest Texas State like a losing lottery ticket.
Yet for much of yesterday's NCAA Midwest Regional first-round game, UMass was still waiting for that big run. Southwest Texas kept coming, despite several three-point baskets and turnover-yielding Minutemen presses that led to quick buckets.
It wasn't until the last eight minutes that UMass pulled away for good. When the final buzzer sounded, signaling the Minutemen's 78-60 win, it seemed they were relieved to be rid of their opening opponent.
"If you saw, we had a couple kids sick on the sidelines; I think we had nervous energy that wore us down," said UMass coach John Calipari, referring in part to center Marcus Camby and forward Dana Dingle, who vomited on the sideline during the game.
"If you've ever been in a big match, the night before or the day of the game, you lose so much energy worrying about the game," Calipari added. "You have to understand, in our top eight, we have four first-year college players who have never played in an NCAA Tournament game. That was a little bit too much for them tonight."
With the win, UMass (28-6) advances to tomorrow's second round to face Maryland (a 74-66 winner over Saint Louis) for the second time this season. UMass won their regular-season matchup, 94-80.
There appeared little doubt the eighth-ranked Minutemen would advance. Yet the game's final tally hardly indicated the trouble UMass had with a team that at times seemed one outside shooter away from matching the Minutemen.
Two late three-point baskets by Mike Williams (20 points) nullified an exceptional first-half defensive effort by the quick Southwest Texas interior players, who frustrated UMass forward Lou Roe, blocking several of his attempts while holding him to 5 points (1-for-6 shooting).
"They did a good job on us defensively inside," said Roe, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "They had more blocks on me than any team's had all year."
"I was really impressed with Southwest Texas' aggressive play; they never backed down," said Calipari. "Every time I thought we were going to break the game open, they made another run. I haven't seen another team attack us inside like that since we played Kentucky."
The Bobcats' late chances were --ed when Roe took command. With 6:52 left, he hit a 12-foot baseline jumper to put the Minutemen up, 60-47. He wound up with 12 of UMass' last 20 points.