Terps look to silence Missouri No. 20 UM prepares for ACC-like atmosphere against Tigers tonight

December 30, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri is down this season, and No. 20 Maryland has struggled at times.

But no one will really care much at a raucous Hearnes Center at 8 tonight, when the Terps and Tigers collide.

This is the Atlantic Coast Conference against the Big 12, a game in which pride and the usual NCAA tournament implications are on the line.

For Maryland (7-3), it will be a final test before 15 straight ACC games, beginning with No. 3 Duke on Saturday night at Cole Field House.

This date with the Tigers is timed perfectly because it comes with all the trimmings of a conference road game, a lot of pressure and a packed field house of hostile fans making as much noise as they can.

"I know it's a tough place to play in," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "My only recollection of the place comes from 1976, when I was out there with Lafayette [as an assistant coach]."

With the Terps coming off a 74-36 victory over UNC-Wilmington on Saturday, Williams said he wasn't that impressed with his offense in that game, even though senior Matt Kovarik started his third straight game at point guard over junior Terrell Stokes.

Kovarik is scheduled to start his first significant game tonight, and a lot of questions should be answered.

Kovarik has averaged 19 minutes as a starter at the point and scored a total of 16 points in three games.

Senior forward Rodney Elliott (Dunbar) led Maryland against UNC-Wilmington by tying a career best with 22 points and matched his personal record of 14 rebounds.

Junior Laron Profit continues to lead Maryland in scoring with 17.0 a game.

While the offense has sputtered, Williams has been praising his defense lately in three straight routs over UMBC, North Carolina-Asheville and North Carolina-Wilmington, none of which compares to Missouri (6-4).

The Terps held those three to a total of 60 field goals and forced 90 turnovers.

"Defense is what wins for you in the ACC," said Williams, who won his 150th game as Maryland coach three days ago.

The Terps, under then-coach Bob Wade, lost to Missouri by eight points in 1988, the last time they played at Hearnes. On Feb. 18, 1996, at Cole Field House, Williams and Maryland defeated Missouri, 91-72, for its first win over the Tigers in three meetings.

For Missouri, tonight's game will not only be a final measuring stick for its Big 12 regular-season opener at Kansas State on Saturday, but also the first time the Tigers have played since coach Norm Stewart recorded his 700th career victory Tuesday with a 75-69 upset victory over Illinois in St. Louis.

Missouri entered the Illinois game as a nine-point underdog, mostly because the Tigers were in the process of fighting off a 2-4 record, the worst start in Stewart's 31 years of coaching at his alma mater.

Stewart is 700-355 in 37 seasons overall, placing him third in victories among active coaches behind Mount St. Mary's Jim Phelan (775) and Indiana's Bob Knight (706).

Stewart, 62, is 603-313 at Missouri and the eighth NCAA Division I men's coach to join the 700-win club.

Stewart tried to play down the milestone by saying: "I wouldn't want my longevity to take anything away from the great effort these young men made tonight."

Four straight victories have changed Stewart's demeanor.

After losing to Coppin State, 78-70, on Dec. 2, Stewart chastised his players for a lack of aggressiveness and being completely out of sync.

At that time, senior Kelly Thames was the only player with more than one year's experience in Stewart's program. Thames leads Missouri with 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

But everything has changed for Missouri since Michigan transfer Albert White became eligible two games ago.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore swing man has injected new life into the Tigers with a zest for the game that has even impressed Stewart quickly.

"Albert certainly has changed the ballclub," said Stewart.

"They [other players] feed off him in a number of areas. He played a heck of a game against Illinois."

White played 34 minutes in the victory over Illinois, hitting three three-pointers on the way to 16 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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