COLLEGE PARK -- They laughed and joked and did imitations of each other's worst shots, from Chris Kerwin's inelegant forays in the lane to Evers Burns' not-so-soft touch at the free-throw line to Vince Broadnax's air ball against Wake Forest.
Is the University of Maryland basketball team loose? If the Terrapins were any looser, they wouldn't be able to stand up. Is Maryland confident? On a scale of 1 to 10, the Terps are about a, oh, 15.
"I think we're a very dangerous team right now," Walt Williams said.
Two weeks after giving one of its more dismal performances this season -- a 12-point loss at Clemson -- Maryland (13-13, 5-10) suddenly has become one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Coming off upsets of then 10th-ranked North Carolina on Sunday and Wake Forest on Thursday, the Terps hope to extend their three-game winning streak when they close the regular season today against Virginia (14-12, 7-8) at Cole Field House at 4 p.m.
"I never thought we couldn't. I never gave up hope," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday, when asked if he thought a winning regular season seemed possible after losing to Clemson. "We continued to work hard.
"It's a shame we started the ACC with three games on the road and Duke at home. If we could have won one game early, it would have given us a lot of confidence."
Instead, Maryland started with six straight losses in the ACC during an eight-game losing streak. But the Terps have won six of their past 10 games, four of their past six. Two of the four losses were by two points to Duke and Georgia Tech.
The 77-66 victory over the Demon Deacons helped push Maryland back to .500 for the first time since mid-January. The Terps are now tied for seventh place with North Carolina State and can clinch the No. 7 seed in next week's ACC tournament with either a victory over Virginia, or a loss for the Wolfpack today against Wake Forest.
"I think we pose a lot of problems to opposing teams," said Walt Williams, the ACC's leading scorer who is 61 points shy of breaking Len Bias' single- season school scoring record. "Especially considering how we did against Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and teams like that."
"They're in a comfort zone," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said yesterday by telephone from Charlottesville. "In Walt Williams, they have one of the best players in the country. And the other guys like Kevin McLinton and Evers Burns and Vince Broadnax have stepped up. Obviously, they've proven that on a given night they can be a very tough team to play."
It will be interesting to see how Maryland reacts this afternoon against the Cavaliers, who beat the Terps, 82-75, at University Hall in January. A team that plays more on emotion than on raw talent, Maryland may benefit -- or be distracted -- by a pre-game ceremony that will honor seniors Williams, Broadnax, Matthew Downing and injured Garfield Smith.
"It's going to be a very emotional day," said Broadnax, who has gone from walk-on to co-captain in his four years. "As a team, we've been through a lot the past few years. We're trying to keep our emotions focused on Virginia, and keep our intensity as high as it's been."
Said Gary Williams: "We have to have two sets of emotions. It's going to be emotional in the pre-game ceremony, but we can't let that carry over. I've seen games lost because the players got too emotional before the game and there was no emotion left once they got on the court. We'll be emotional in the pre-game and the other will take care of itself."
NOTES: If the Terps win today, or N.C. State loses to Wake Forest, Maryland will play Florida State in the opening round of the ACC tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. in Charlotte, N.C. If Maryland loses and N.C. State wins, the Terps will meet Clemson in the preliminary game Thursday at 7 p.m., with the winner facing top-ranked Duke at 2 p.m. Friday. If both teams win or both lose, Maryland gets the No. 7 seed because it split with the Wolfpack during the regular season and defeated the Seminoles, the highest seeded team either team beat.