COLLEGE PARK -- There are two possible explanations for Gary Williams' jovial mood, what with the current status of his Maryland Terrapins.
Given that his star point guard, Walt Williams, is likely to be lost for the rest of the season, Gary Williams either knows something he's not sharing with the rest of us or he's laughing the laugh of a man who is facing the worst and figures, "What the heck."
His mood, as he chatted with reporters over sodas and pizza yesterday, is likely as therapeutic for himself as for his players, who need to believe that someone other than themselves don't think their season has gone into the dumper just because Walt Williams is gone.
"I feel really good about things," said Gary Williams. "We've had some fun. New York [and the upset win in the ECAC Holiday Festival] was great. The win here against Clemson was great.
"We can still do some good things this year and I don't want them to get down on themselves."
This isn't the first time a Gary Williams-coached team has seen its star player lost to injury. In Williams' final season at Ohio State two years ago, guard Jay Burson badly hurt his neck under the basket on a drive.
The Buckeyes lost six of seven games in his absence, but Williams pointed out that two of those games were against Indiana, ranked third nationally at the time, and another setback was to Michigan, the eventual national champion.
In 1981, while Williams was at American, star forward Boo Bowers injured his knee 10 games into the season. But, armed with sixth man Mark Nickens, who stepped off the bench to pour in 20 points per game, the Eagles won 14 straight without Bowers.
No one realistically expects that from Maryland. In fact, Williams says he doesn't know exactly what to expect from the Terps, who host 14th-ranked Virginia tonight (7:30, WBAL-AM 1090), since they haven't played anyone since the 6-foot-8 junior point guard broke his left fibula in a freak collision with center Cedric Lewis early in Saturday's loss to Duke.
Consequently, Williams also isn't sure if the Terps can sustain the emotional surge they generated when Williams left the game early in the second half.
"Can you do that [play on emotion] for 40 minutes against one of the top 15 teams in the country when they know that he's not coming and you know he's not coming," said Williams.
"Until we play, I won't know where we are without Walt. When you lose Walt Williams, you lose 38 minutes a game. Your substitution pattern changes. Now, a [reserve guard] Matthew Downing and a [reserve center] Eric Kjome get an opportunity to show what they can do."
One of the other beneficiaries of Williams' absence is junior Vince Broadnax, who will move into the starting lineup.
Broadnax, a 6-3 forward who walked onto the team two years ago, was awarded a scholarship last year just before Maryland's first meeting with the Cavaliers. He responded by hitting a basket with three minutes left to tie the game, then tied up a loose ball in the last seconds to seal the win.
Williams said Broadnax, who is a career 54 percent shooter from the floor but has taken only 42 shots this season, is capable of helping offensively.
Likewise, Williams is hoping for more production from junior forward Garfield Smith. A 6-6 junior college transfer from the Bronx, Smith scored 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting against Southern California in the second game of the season, but has been largely silent since.