Regionals again prove Terps' wall

March 24, 1995|By John Eisenberg

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Based on what they saw last night at the Oakland Coliseum, college basketball fans in the Bay area had every right to serenade the Maryland Terrapins with a chorus of "Over-rated!"

The Terps essentially were no-shows against Connecticut in the West Regional semifinals. Their 99-89 loss was even more lopsided than the final score indicated.

On a night when the Terps needed to play one of their better games, they played one of their worst.

It was ugly.

They fell behind early and contended for the lead only briefly, rarely resembling the team that won 26 games and tied for the ACC regular-season championship. They showed little patience in choosing their shots, their defense was a sieve and they often appeared dead-legged against the quick, confident Huskies, who will play UCLA in the regional final tomorrow.

"UConn is good, but we didn't play nearly as well as we can tonight," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "We looked slow. We didn't move well at all. It's hard to know why. It just happened."

In the great Oakland tradition, there was no there there for the Terps, who lost in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year and the fifth time in seven appearances dating to 1958.

Getting to this point hasn't been a problem for them, but advancing beyond this point has been a big problem. The Terps' record in NCAA subregional games is a healthy 15-5. But they're 2-7 in the regionals.

"My expectation was that we'd go farther than the Sweet 16 this year," Williams said. "It just didn't happen. This isn't the NBA. If you come out flat one night, you're gone."

Every matchup that looked even or reasonably close before the game went the wrong way for the Terps. Ray Allen was too quick for Exree Hipp, who fouled out. Donny Marshall was too strong and agile for Keith Booth.

Joe Smith had 22 points and 14 rebounds in what may have been his last college game, but the totals were misleading. The Huskies shut him off with a collapsing defense in the first half, and succeeded in getting him in foul trouble. He was not a factor early, when the Huskies grabbed control of the game, never to let go. Only rarely did he show the form that has made him a national player-of-the-year candidate.

"I give them a lot of credit; they played as well as anyone has played against us all year," Smith said. "But we didn't come close to playing our game. We showed no patience on offense. We came down and took a bunch of three-pointers. And we didn't get back on defense."

Both teams and most observers had rated the game a toss-up, but it took a hard and permanent turn when UConn made a run five minutes after tipoff. Four straight turnovers by the Terps resulted in nine straight points for the Huskies and a 22-12 lead.

The Terps were never closer than four points the rest of the night, and trailed by more than 10 most of the time. They were too inconsistent to keep a rally going for long. They would take a poor shot when they needed a smart one. Or they would give up an easy basket or three.

Sloppy defense -- a problem that has popped up again and again this season, particularly away from home -- got the Terps in the end. "Our defense wasn't nearly good enough tonight," Williams said.

The Terps were lucky to trail by only eight points at halftime after a first half in which Smith collected three fouls and scored only six points.

"We were excited at halftime; we thought we could see light," Williams said.

That light brightened even more when the Terps cut the lead to four early in the second half. But the Huskies' running game was too quick for the Terps on this night. Marshall and Allen led the Huskies on a big run that pushed the lead out to 70-51. The Terps tried to rally late, but they rarely stopped the Huskies from scoring, which was a problem.

"There was a lot of emotion in the locker room, a lot of guys crying," Smith said. "We thought we could do more than this this year. We had a really nice year and all that, but I wish we'd come

out here and played a better game."

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