UM's Williams shells critics on inconsistency

January 24, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- You're not alone if you think the Maryland Terrapins are a trifle inconsistent this season.

But if you expect Terps coach Gary Williams to agree with that assessment, think again.

A question about his team being prone to "highs and lows" sent him into a full-court bristle the other day.

"Maybe some people outside [the program] like to dwell on the negative, but I have no problem with the way we're playing," Williams said.

His response to the criticism that his team is less than a font of consistency?

Take a reality pill and calm down.

"We've won four of our last five games, which I'll take any day in the ACC," Williams said. "We're in third place [in the ACC] behind Duke and North Carolina, two pretty good teams. I just don't see where anyone should be upset."

There's no doubt the Terps are having a successful season overall, with an 11-6 record, upset wins over Kansas and North Carolina and that third-place standing in the ACC going into today's game against Clemson at Cole Field House.

It all looks even better when you consider that the Terps are playing the nation's toughest schedule, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, the computer program used by the NCAA to gauge quality.

In all, the Terps appear in good shape for a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament; a .500 record the rest of the way will get them in easily, and anything better will get them a respectable seed.

And yet, they have bounced back and forth between terrific and terrible often enough that you have to wonder before every game whether the good or bad Terps are going to show up.

In the past three weeks, they have stunned North Carolina and beaten North Carolina State and Georgia Tech on the road, but also lost to Duke by 32 points and slept through a loss at Wake Forest.

In early December, they upset Kansas one afternoon and lost to George Washington the next night.

In Wednesday night's victory over Georgia Tech, they blew leads of 16 and nine points before winning in the final seconds.

"We didn't play well at Wake, no doubt, but that's the game I keep hearing about [from fans and reporters], and it's our only loss in the last five," Williams said. "As for the [up and down] Georgia Tech game, we're not 16 points better than them on the road, so it's crazy to think that [lead] was going to last.

"We just don't play in a league with four [bad] teams that give you eight easy wins. There are leagues like that, but the ACC isn't one of them. We don't have any easy games. North Carolina State is in last place right now, and that's one of the toughest places I have ever played at.

"It's just, as much as you never want to lose, you have to be realistic. These guys are 18-22 years old, and there are going to be nights when they don't play well, for whatever reason, travel, fatigue, whatever. You see it in the NBA. You see it at all levels of the game."

Two junctures in particular have created the perception that the Terps were inconsistent: the Duke catastrophe followed by three straight wins, and the Carolina victory followed by the no-show at Wake.

"I guess it depends on your perspective," Williams said. "We came back strong from the Duke loss, and we came back from losing at Wake to win Wednesday. I don't see that as highs and ZTC low. I see that as a good pattern of staying positive after some negative results."

How have the Terps come back from those disappointments?

"We stress to the players that every game is just one game, whether it's a great win or a terrible loss," Williams said. "This isn't like football, where you can sit and dwell on a game for a few days. Here, once a game is over, you forget about it. You can't change the result, and you have another game coming up, so you move on."

It's a mental approach similar to baseball's first commandment: Don't bring yesterday's game to the park today.

"It's hard thing for me to accept, so I know it's hard for the players," Williams said. "But you have to do it."

However they have done it, the Terps have managed to stay on course despite their various wobbles. Williams all but laughed at the idea that he was nagged by any recent inconsistency.

"I was more worried after we lost to South Carolina and Clemson in overtime [early in the season] and we had to go and play Kansas," he said. "Being in position to win, and not winning, you wonder if you're going to be able to win close games. To come back and win some of those games, that has really helped us. Now we have that confidence. I like where we are, like it a lot."

Inconsistency? What inconsistency?

"All I can say is that the RPI [computer] has us ranked No. 13 [in the nation], taking our wins and schedule into account," Williams said. "That's not something we made up. That's coming from them [the NCAA]. And I think that says it all."

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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