Terps, No. 1 Ky. go to press: Full-court defenses to push tempo as teams leave gate running

November 24, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- If you like a blistering up-tempo pace with defensive traps spread like minefields across the court, this is the place to be tonight.

Matching fire with fire, it's No. 14 Maryland against No. 1 Kentucky in the 17th annual Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Springfield Civic Center.

"We're going to press them and they're going to press us," said Maryland's Duane Simpkins. "It's going to be interesting to see who handles it better."

It's a season opener that officially signals the start of the post-Joe Smith era at Maryland and the beginning of Kentucky's anticipated run at the national championship.

These are two teams very similar in style, although not necessarily in substance.

"Kentucky has good players and can get traps," Terrapins coach Gary Williams said. "But at the same time, that's how we play. We don't have to change anything we do in practice to get ready for Kentucky.

"Whether we're ready for their ability, that's what you don't know until you see what happens in the game. [But] we trap every day in practice, so we should be ready for that."

The Terps are coming off a sluggish preseason when they sought to replace the offensive dominance and defensive intimidation of Smith, the national College Player of the Year last season and the first pick in the NBA draft this year.

Despite uneven play in the frontcourt, the Terps still averaged 90 points in their two exhibition wins. Kentucky averaged 108 while rolling over two makeshift teams.

"We are a great fast-break team," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said after smashing Athletes in Action last week. "We change ends as quick as any team I've seen in some time.

"We're not good enough defensively to compete against a Maryland. But we are good enough offensively. They're going to have to guard us, certainly."

Under Pitino, the Wildcats have won 114 games the past four seasons, the most in Division I. They have staked their reputation on pressure defense and three-point shooting.

To an already imposing bench, they added blue-chip recruits Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner this season. Mercer, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, starts at small forward. Turner plays behind Tony Delk, who has moved to point guard this season.

What concerns Williams most about the Wildcats is the athleticism on that bench.

"It's one thing to have two or three guys to really fly around out there," Williams said. "But they have six or seven. It's a very unusual situation talent-wise."

Kentucky is the seventh No. 1-ranked team the Terps have faced since the beginning of the 1992 season. They are 1-5 in those games, having beaten North Carolina last February.

"At Maryland, because of the league we're in, we've played the No. 1 team in the country quite a few times," Williams said. "So that's not going to be anything new to our veteran players.

"How we react to the situation is the key. We have to keep our composure. They're going to get some steals off their press, but we might, too. It's not like we're not ranked, or are a team that hasn't had any NCAA [tournament] experience."

The last time Kentucky played an Atlantic Coast Conference team was in the Southeast Regional final last season. In a stunning 74-61 loss to North Carolina, the Wildcats shot 28 percent from the field, including a dismal 7-for-36 effort from the three-point line.

"It wasn't a question of threes, it was a question of taking bad shots," Pitino said. "The three-point line has gotten us to Elite Eights and the Final Four. We're certainly not going to abandon ** it."

Might the Terps try a zone defense like the one employed by Carolina in that game? They have played some zone in their weekly scrimmages.

"It's something you look at," said Williams, who has rarely played zone in his six seasons coaching Maryland. "Everybody saw that game. . . . [But] I'm not sure it was as much the Carolina zone as it was just Kentucky having a bad night."

The last time Maryland had an opener approximating this was the 1993-94 season, when the Terps toppled No. 15 Georgetown, 84-83, in overtime. Smith was a freshman then, and Simpkins made the winning layup.

"This is like the Georgetown game my sophomore year," Simpkins said. "Now we're starting all over. This is a chance to put Maryland back on the map."

Williams doesn't rule out another upset.

"If we do have a good night, if things fall in place, we do have a chance to win the game," he said.

Tonight's Tip-Off Classic

No. 14 Maryland (0-0)

vs. No. 1 Kentucky (0-0)

Site: Springfield (Mass.) Civic Center

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Outlook: Maryland's basketball life after Joe Smith begins in earnest against the No. 1 team in the country. The Terps went 2-0 in the exhibition season, although both wins were flawed by erratic frontcourt play. Mario Lucas shot 30 percent in the two games with a total of five rebounds, and Exree Hipp hit only 25 percent with five boards. The backcourt and Keith Booth carried the team. Booth averaged 17.5 points and nine rebounds, and Johnny Rhodes hit 73 percent of his shots (19 of 26) for 43 points. The Terps must break Kentucky's press and get a strong inside game from Lucas and Booth to stay with the Wildcats. They also must exploit Duane Simpkins' experience at point guard over Kentucky's Tony Delk, a transplanted shooting guard. Center Walter McCarty returns from a sprained ankle for the Wildcats. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 5-3. Both coaches -- Maryland's Gary Williams and Kentucky's Rick Pitino -- are 6-0 in season openers at their current schools.

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