Men's final four

May 29, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Today's

Championship

Massachusetts (13-4) vs. No. 1 seed Virginia (16-0), 1 p.m., ESPN

3 THINGS TO WATCH

Virginia has made a habit of grabbing an early lead and forcing its opponent to play catch-up. The Cavaliers have outscored their opponents in the first half by a whopping 141-56.

If UMass senior Jake Deane plays the game of his life, the Minutemen might stay within striking distance. Deane is an excellent faceoff man, an area Virginia tends to control.

UMass did a great job switching from man-to-man to zone defense against Maryland, while disrupting the Terps' shooters all day. They need to do that even better against the game's most dangerous offense.

KEY MATCHUPS

Senior attackman Sean Morris is the heart of the Minutemen offense. His ability to get open down low, and dodge to create good shots or draw slides will be crucial. Cavalier senior defenseman Michael Culver figures to cover Morris. Deane rarely gets much help facing off, and he will be taking on a two-headed monster in Virginia's Charlie Glazer and Drew Thompson, who have combined to win nearly 60 percent of their attempts. UMass freshman goalie Doc Schneider will not have the luxury of watching shots go by the cage or eating up easy desperation shots, as he did against the Terps. The Cavaliers make the extra pass better than any team, and shoot from all angles with proficiency.

Coaches

Virginia's Dom Starsia is one of only three coaches to win at least 100 games at two different schools, with 157 victories at Virginia and 101 at Brown. He has the Cavaliers in position to win their third national championship in eight seasons, and is looking to conclude his 14th year in Charlottesville with his first unbeaten season. UMass coach Greg Cannella guided the Minutemen to their first final four this year in his 12th season at Amherst. He has a record of 110-61, and ranks eighth among active Division I coaches with a career winning percentage of 64.3.

WHEN UMASS HAS BALL

As he showed on Saturday with a three-goal, one-assist performance against Maryland, Morris is the man who makes the Minutemen go. He ranks fifth in the nation with 4.12 points per game. Watch UMass' second midfield. They often provide a huge spark, and have nearly scored as much as the first group.

WHEN UVA. HAS BALL

The Cavaliers have averaged 15.9 goals per game, tops in the NCAA. Their offense never seems to settle into a pattern. They dodge at the right time, look for each other constantly, and don't miss the cage much when they shoot. Nearly 70 percent of their 254 goals have been assisted. Senior attackman Matt Ward, who has played through the postseason with a fractured right hand, has energy to burn, as his team-high 62 points attest. Sophomore attackman Ben Rubeor has 54 points, and seven players have at least 35 points.

BOTTOM LINE

UMass is a tough, inspired team that has knocked off the No. 6, No. 3 and No. 2 seeds to get here. But the defense probably needs to hold Virginia considerably under its scoring average to have a chance today, and that's not likely.

Besides the advantages the Cavaliers enjoy in speed, experience, depth and offensive talent, they have complete respect for the Minutemen. Virginia should win by at least six goals.

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