In talking with his University of Maryland basketball team about its 76-62 loss Wednesday night to Virginia, Gary Williams has used a different line of reasoning than in any of his previous 12 seasons as a head coach.
Then again, this is the first time the United States has been at war in Williams' head-coaching career.
"I don't think anybody is down about the game," Williams said yesterday. "We're in a tough situation, playing without Walt [Williams]. But their [the players'] situation isn't all bad. We're just still playing basketball."
The Terps, who played without Walt Williams for the first time against the 14th-ranked Cavaliers, will try to break a three-game losing streak when they meet the University of South Florida (11-2) tonight in a 7:30 non-conference game in Tampa, Fla.
Maryland nearly went into the Sun Dome minus not only Walt Williams, but also Cedric Lewis. The vastly improved senior center, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots against Virginia, sprained an ankle in Wednesday's game and sat out practice Thursday.
Gary Williams said Lewis will play against South Florida tonight. Asked whether the school had considered not playing the game because the team would have to fly, Gary Williams said there had been "no consideration" for that.
"We've got to live," he said. "They're playing football tomorrow. If the NFL can do it, we can do it, too."
Maryland's third straight loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference was typical of many this season: a strong first half, a sloppy start to the second half and a long way to come back.
The Terps trailed by five at halftime, were down 11 in the first two minutes of the second half, fell behind by as many as 24 before cutting it to 13 in the final minute. It was a pattern similar to the one Maryland followed in the loss to Duke after Williams was injured.
"No team comes out that way [as Maryland did in the first half] all the time," said Gary Williams. "Our problem is that we really have to in order to stay in a game. We have no other choice.
"Coaches often say that the first five minutes of the second half is the most important time in the game. You're restaking your territory. If we had come out in the first five minutes of the second half against Virginia like we had played in the first half, it would have been a different game."
Said sophomore point guard Kevin McLinton: "We have to be more prepared to play in the second half. We can't afford to do that against any team, especially a team like Virginia."
Or South Florida, for that matter. The Bulls had matched their best start before losing Thursday night, 67-62, at Alabama-Birmingham. South Florida has won 15 straight at home.
This is Maryland's second trip to Florida in a little over a month, and Gary Williams is hoping that it's more successful than the first, when the Terps lost in the closing seconds to Jacksonville, 71-70.
"They're a better team," said Williams of the Bulls, who beat Jacksonville by four in Tampa. "They're a good Division I team that's probably going to win their conference [Sun Belt] and get to the NCAA tournament. They've got a quick guard named [Marvin] Taylor who's a lot like the West Virginia guards that gave us trouble."
Williams was pleased with the play of McLinton and junior transfer Matthew Downing, who are filling in for Walt Williams at the point. Williams is expected to be out at least a month.
"I think Kevin and Cougar [Downing] did a good job," Williams said of his point guards, who combined for 11 points, seven assists and two rebounds against Virginia. "Kevin's proven that he's a little tougher than I thought."
NOTES: Lewis was credited with 2 more blocks against Virginia than originally believed after assistant sports information director Ivan Meltzer viewed a tape of the game. Lewis has 78 blocks for the season, third in the country. Lewis' brother, Derrick, holds the Maryland single-season record with 114, as well as the all-time mark of 339.