Terps' Williams is shooting for wins, not scoring title

January 22, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Walt Williams was sitting around Cole Field House one afternoon last summer, envisioning what his senior year at Maryland would be like.

There was a lot at stake for Williams, a 6-foot-8 guard with a seven-figure contract somewhere in his future. There was less on the line for the Terps, still shackled by NCAA probation.

Asked whether it would be hard for him to forsake personal statistics for team goals, Williams said, "If I score a lot of points, but we don't win a lot of games, what good would that do me?"

That exact scenario is being played out, since Williams has become the leading scorer in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Maryland (7-8, 0-5) is looking to break a seven-game losing streak tonight at home against Wake Forest (9-4, 2-3).

Since moving from point guard to shooting guard and small forward three games ago, Williams has scored 92 points. But the Terps have continued their free fall with losses at North Carolina State and North Carolina, and Saturday's 91-83 overtime defeat to Florida State at home.

"It's definitely killing me," Williams said of the losing streak, the longest since Gary Williams became head coach. "I've been getting all these points but there's no consolation in losing. I really don't enjoy scoring 30 points a game if we don't win."

Williams is the first player in Maryland history to score at least 30 points in three straight games, and could be the first since Len Bias in 1986 to lead the ACC in scoring. He is averaging 24.3 points, 16th among Division I scorers.

In his last game at point guard two weeks ago, Williams struggled against Duke while the pro scouts were watching. He scored 25 points, but also had 11 turnovers and no assists. He may have improved his draft status since then, but Williams doesn't seem interested in what any potential employers might think.

"My future is definitely in the future," said Williams, who is still considered a first-round draft choice by those scouts who have seen him play this season. "That's where it's going to stay. I still have a college career. That's the main thing I'm concentrating on."

Williams had one of the best all-around games of his career against Florida State. Aside from the points, he had seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Two of his three turnovers came on the first two possessions of the game.

"Playing point guard is a lot tougher than people think," said Gary Williams, a former point guard at Maryland. "It's the mental strain. I don't think it's made a big difference switching off the point, but he's gradually picked up his defense. That was the best defense he's played."

Had Maryland beaten Florida State, everyone still would be talking about the game Williams played. But the performance was overshadowed by both the defeat and the season-ending injury to senior forward Garfield Smith, who suffered a fractured left tibia.

The only thing Williams thought about after the game was whether he should have taken the final shot in regulation, rather than passing off to freshman guard Wayne Bristol, whose 21-footer rimmed out.

"Definitely, I second-guessed myself when I was sitting in my room that night," said Williams. "In that situation, very seldom does the ref call a foul. I did make the right play. If I had to do it again, I'd do the same thing. You're always going to feel, 'Damn, I should have taken the shot,' but three people were on me."

Since switching ball-handling responsibilities with Kevin McLinton, Williams' game has improved in several areas. But the most obvious difference is in his shooting. He had hit 32 of 59 shots from the field, including 12 of 26 three-point shots.

"It's totally different, when you're running the point, you have so many things to worry about," said Walt Williams. Now he is concerned with only one thing: helping Maryland break its free fall.

NOTES: Geno Soto, a freshman forward from Puerto Rico, was held out of practice yesterday while he awaits an appeal on his academic eligibility before a university committee. Gary Williams said he was hoping to get a ruling by today. "If he gets a grade changed, he'll be fine," Williams said of Soto, who was expected to play more in light of Smith's injury. . . . James Spears, a 6-6 forward who transferred from Temple, worked out for the first time. . . . There are approximately 3,000 tickets left for tonight's game.

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