Terps try to burst Virginia's bubble UM seeks momentum

Cavs can't afford loss

March 02, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Maryland and Virginia will have the same objective when they close out their respective Atlantic Coast Conference regular seasons in a 1: 30 p.m. game today at University Hall.

But their agendas couldn't be any different.

The 16th-ranked Terrapins need to win to build some momentum going into the ACC tournament Friday in Greensboro, N.C. Maryland (20-8, 9-6) also needs to rebuild some of the confidence it has lost in a stretch that has included six defeats in its past nine games.

The Cavaliers?

They just need to win.

"This is the season, the whole season as far as any postseason goals we set," junior forward and former Dunbar star Norman Nolan said Friday. "I'm not saying it's over if we don't, but the chances would be very slim for us [getting into the NCAA tournament]."

Not that a victory over Maryland would clinch an at-large spot in the 64-team field for Virginia (17-11, 6-9). The Cavaliers would still be under the .500 mark in the ACC, and might also need to win their opening-round game in the ACC tournament.

"I'm trying to avoid that discussion," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said. "But if we win Sunday, even if it's by one point, that would definitely help our cause."

Maryland could help the ACC's cause of getting six teams in the NCAA tournament by losing today. But the Terrapins also could help themselves -- and their seeding -- with a victory. It would be their fifth on the road in the ACC this year, and give coach Gary Williams double-digit wins in the league for only the second time in his eight years.

"It would be great for us to win 10 games in the league," Williams said. "The last two games we played two of the hottest teams in the country [then-No. 12 North Carolina and No. 7 Duke]. We have to keep reminding our players of that. The mental thing of this league has tired us out a little bit."

So has the physical thing. Though the Tar Heels didn't have much more depth than the seven-deep Terrapins, they had more size. Though the Blue Devils didn't have much more size than Maryland, they had more depth. Each was a factor in a pair of 12-point defeats.

"We didn't come out ready to play," senior forward Keith Booth said after Thursday's 81-69 loss in Durham, N.C. "At this time of year, everyone is a little tired. But we have to be ready to play 40 minutes like the other teams we're playing."

Coming off a game in which they committed a season-high 26 turnovers and equaled their season low of 10 assists, the Terrapins certainly have less pressure on them than the Cavaliers do. But that's not necessarily a positive for Maryland, or a negative for Virginia.

"We seem to play better when people doubt us," said junior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius.

Said Jones: "We've had this the last four or five games. Now we'll have it today. I think our guys have responded well to the pressure."

Though it wasn't a league game, Tuesday night's 58-57 win over Virginia Tech in Richmond helped the Cavaliers keep their chances alive.

Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, seven ACC teams have received at-large bids after finishing two games below .500 in the conference. Three others in that situation didn't make it. Five of the seven also won a first-round game in the ACC tournament.

Asked if he'd try to block out what's at stake, Nolan said: "We don't want to block it out. Good teams perform well under pressure. Hopefully it will make guys play harder, play well and play together."

Nolan also said that one defeat that put Virginia into its current predicament -- a controversial one-point loss at home to Duke, when the game officials admittedly botched an end-of-game substitution that contributed to Steve Wojciechowski's winning free throws -- is hard to forget.

"If we don't win the Maryland game, that's something that will be talked about all summer," said Nolan, whose bruised knee is the latest injury for a team that has been banged up most of the season. "A win will take the pain away from the Duke game."

A win will do something else for the Terrapins. It will give them a winning ACC road record this season, something none of Williams' previous seven teams did.

But more importantly, it will give the Terrapins some momentum and confidence heading into Greensboro -- and beyond.

Terps' possible ACC finishes

Tied for third: If the Terrapins beat Virginia and North Carolina loses at home to Duke, both teams would finish 10-6. By virtue of splitting with first-place Duke, Maryland would be seeded third in the ACC tournament and the Tar Heels, who will have lost twice to the Blue Devils, would be seeded fourth.

Fourth: If the Terrapins lose to the Cavaliers and Clemson loses to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Maryland would finish at 9-7 and the Tigers 8-8. Or if North Carolina, Maryland and Clemson all win, they would hold their current spots. The Terrapins and Tigers would meet in the opening quarterfinal of the ACC tournament on Friday in Greensboro, N.C.

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