COLLEGE PARK -- When the University of Maryland basketball team last left the court at Cole Field House after a game, the Terrapins were undefeated and seemingly undaunted at the prospect of a three-game road trip.
Twelve days later, a different Maryland team returns.
When the Terps take the floor for a 7:30 p.m. game tonight against the University of California-Irvine, they will be trying to erase the memories of a losing streak that stretched from Morgantown, W.Va., to Jacksonville, Fla., with a pitiful stop in Richmond, Va.
"Their confidence is down," Maryland coach Gary Williams said about his players yesterday. "It's something that happens when you lose. Every team has valleys, but we don't have much room for error. When we make a mistake, we pay for it."
Maryland (2-3) paid for it dearly Saturday night in a 71-70 loss to Jacksonville. When center Cedric Lewis took a momentary glance at the official handing the ball to Dolphins point guard Danny Tirado under his team's basket, it was all Tim Burroughs needed to sneak in for a game-winning layup.
It was just the latest in a series of mental mishaps to afflict Maryland, and another defeat for the Terps after leading in the second half. Maryland was ahead by nine with 12 minutes to go against the Dolphins, a similar scenario to what happened against Boston College (a 100-85 defeat) in the ACC-Big East Challenge in Richmond.
"We're not to the point where we play a 40-minute game," said Lewis, who started out by blocking four of Jacksonville's first 11 shots, then was dominated by Burroughs (19 points, 18 rebounds). "When we get the lead, we sort of relax."
Maryland won't be able to relax tonight. The Anteaters (3-3) are among many teams to play the run-and-shoot offense created at Loyola Marymount a few years back that has suddenly come in vogue across the country. It is a style that could cause some problems for the Terps, not to mention the stat crew.
In fact, Gary Williams said yesterday that he will do something he has been contemplating for a while -- expand his regular rotation to include a few more players, most likely reserve guard Matthew "Cougar" Downing and backup forward Eric Kjome. Both Walt Williams and Matt Roe are averaging more than 34 minutes a game.
"I think if the guys are fresher at the end of the game, they might not make as many mistakes," said Gary Williams.
In most years, this is the kind of game Williams and his players would love. But Maryland's biggest problem -- a lack of quickness -- could be exposed tonight since the Terps probably will not try to get into a running game with the Anteaters.
"You can't get into a game they're used to playing and they're good at," said Williams.
Exactly what kind of game Maryland is good at isn't clear, especially after the recent road trip. Each defeat has exposed different weaknesses for Maryland: a lack of execution, outside shooting and -- what the coaches feared more than anything -- rebounding.
It was frightening the way the Terps were manhandled on the boards by Jacksonville. Not only did Burroughs, a 6-7, 265-pound junior, get his share, but so did Tirado, who at 5-5 had more rebounds (five) than Williams, Roe, Lewis or Evers Burns.
"From what I know, they [Cal-Irvine] have a player similar to Burroughs," Lewis said of Ricky Butler, a 6-7, 240-pound senior. "I have to come out and figure out how to get around him. I have to try to correct what I did, or didn't do."