By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It was a week for the ages for La Salle.
The Explorers made a national statement by picking up impressive wins over #9 Butler and at then-#19 VCU. That raised their record to 14-5 (4-2 in the A-10) and earned them some votes in both the AP and Coaches polls. They will look to continue their surge on Wednesday when they host UMass.
“It was an absolutely great week,” La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini tells KYW Newsradio. “But now we have UMass. There’s so many examples I could speak to that emphasizes that you absolutely have to move forward. Last year we were at 6-2 (in the A-10) after eight games, we were in first place in the A-10 – in better shape than we are right now. (We) went from first to finish fifth, and I’ve seen it happen to many other teams. And of course we have a terrific UMass team coming in now. So you really can’t enjoy it long. The accomplishments you want are season-long accomplishments, not week-long accomplishments. I told our team, if last week turns out to be the best week of our season, we’re not going to have a good year. So we have to move forward.”
The win over VCU on Saturday had a lot of heroes. Of course, the headlines were grabbed by the great performances by Ramon Galloway (31 points) and Tyreek Duren (16 points). But very quietly, sophomore center Steve Zack played a critical role, pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking three shots in 23 minutes of work.
“Steve Zack does dozens of things every game that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Giannini says. “He’s one of those guys who is in the right place at the right time. When the other team could get a lay-up, they’re not going to even try because they see him there. When they have a great offensive rebounder and he doesn’t have a great game, people don’t see Steve boxing him out. When our guards are getting open shots, they don’t see Steve sprinting into screens. He’s just a winner.”
UMass is 13-5 on the season, 3-2 in the A-10, and they also have Giannini’s full attention.
“They are extremely gifted,” Giannini says. “They have one of the best point guards in the country in Chaz Williams. They have phenomenal team size, length and athleticism. Just in terms of finishing, rebounding, deflections, making it hard to get open passing lanes or shots, being disruptive with their press, they can do so many things because, frankly, more than half of their team is 6’7″, 6’8″, 6’9″, 6’10” and really athletic and long armed.”
Williams is tops on UMass in scoring (16.4 ppg) and assists (130). He also is no slouch on the glass, pulling down 4.4 caroms a game.
The Minutemen come into Wednesday’s game fresh off a win over Richmond on Sunday.
The Explorers will look to continue their home dominance in this one. They are 9-1 at Gola Arena this season, 23-4 over the last two.
La Salle and UMass tip-off at 7:00pm on Wednesday night at Gola Arena.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.