COLLEGE PARK -- When Walt Williams was contemplating whether to stay at the University of Maryland last summer, his coaches and teammates on the Terrapins basketball team thought about what life on the court would be like without the 6-foot-8 junior point guard.
For at least the next four weeks, and possibly the rest of the season, Maryland will find out.
X-rays taken yesterday at the campus health center revealed that Williams sustained a fractured left fibula during Saturday's 94-78 loss to 14th-ranked Duke at Cole Field House. He will be in a cast for at least a month.
"Hopefully, this will heal quickly, and I'll be able to get back out there," said Williams, who has led the Terps in scoring (20.3 a game) and assists (5.5). "I'm disappointed for sure, but I know the team will continue to do well."
That could be more a case of wishful thinking. With Williams, from Temple Hills, Maryland was an 8-6 team (1-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) that had done better than most expected.
Without him, it likely will be a long stretch, beginning at home Wednesday night against Virginia.
"We just have to try to get a feel for what we have to play with and go from there," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday. "Obviously, we can't do some things we did with Walt. Some guys will have to play more. It'll be a good opportunity for them."
Gary Williams said that he was leaning toward putting junior Vince Broadnax back in the starting lineup at small forward, moving senior Matt Roe back to shooting guard and giving sophomore Kevin McLinton the point-guard spot. McLinton had been used more in an off-guard role while sharing the point with Williams.
It is the latest setback to a team that lost three other returning starters from last year, in part because of National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions imposed in March. Williams had been the lone starter back and recently had showed signs of blossoming into one of the ACC's top all-around players.
Williams was named Most Valuable Player in last month's ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, leading the Terps to an upset over then-No. 12 South Carolina in the championship. During one five-game stretch, he scored 26 or more four times.
"This team owes a lot to Walt Williams, and we can show him how much we appreciate what he has done for us all season by going out and playing hard as a team," said Gary Williams. "You can't replace a Walt Williams with one other player. Obviously, a few players will have to pick up their games a notch or two to make up for the loss of Walt."
Walt Williams was injured in the first half of the Duke game, apparently after getting kicked accidentally in the side of the lower leg. He came out for a few minutes, and, shortly after he returned, he was inadvertently clipped in the same spot by one of Duke forward Brian Davis' sneakers. Williams limped off the floor and went to the locker room.
When he returned to the court after halftime, Williams barely could put any pressure on the leg. Gary Williams tried to talk Walt Williams into sitting out the rest of the game -- Maryland was down by 10 at the time -- but acquiesced to his player's wish to return. Walt Williams hit his first shot, but came out with a little more than 15 minutes left.
"When he came out [at the start of the second half], I said, 'Don't play anymore,' " said Gary Williams. "I didn't know the extent of the injury. If I had, he would never have played."
"Coach told me he didn't want me to play at the start of the second half, but I wanted to give it a shot," said Williams, who left Cole Field House on crutches.
Gary Williams said yesterday that he had been assured by team physicians and trainer Bill Saylor that Walt Williams didn't further damage the leg by coming back into the game, because the fibula is a non-weight-bearing bone. Williams missed a few games of his freshman year with a broken finger.
It is the second time in the last three years that Gary Williams has lost his star player to a possible season-ending injury. Toward the end of Williams' final season (1988-89) at Ohio State, guard Jay Burson fractured vertebrae in his neck. The Buckeyes closed the season with seven straight defeats.
"We're not going to concede anything," Gary Williams said yesterday. "You go into Wednesday's game thinking about how you're going to win. But, obviously, without Walt, it's going to be very difficult."
The Maryland players, who will return to practice today, seemed to be shocked by the news of Williams' injury.
"We had to compete without him [Saturday], and we were able to hang in there for a while," said Cedric Lewis. "It's just an unfortunate thing, but we'll have to go on."
Downing, a junior point guard who was recruited as insurance last summer before Williams decided to stay, undoubtedbly will get more playing time.
But, in assessing Maryland's chances without the player hi teammates call "The Wizard," Downing said: "We're not going to make up for his ability. We'll just have to make up for his heart."