Focus at issue for Terps in ACC In 3-game win streak, coach hasn't had to snap team to attention

March 06, 1998|By Paul McMullen xTC | Paul McMullen xTC,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Has Maryland matured to the point where coach Gary Williams doesn't have to call a 20-second timeout to get his team's attention?

That's the major postseason question facing the No. 21 Terps, who meet Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament today (noon) at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Maryland (18-9, 10-6) is playing its best basketball of the season. The Terps have won their past three games by 12, eight and 17 points. The streak would be a little longer, however, if not for their most recent episode of not being emotionally prepared to play.

When the Terps began a turnaround from their 7-5 start (0-2 ACC) with a win over Florida State on Jan. 7, they got going after a 20-second tongue-lashing from Williams at the start of the second half. Fifteen days ago, he had to do the same midway through the first half against Wake Forest, but they didn't respond until the closing minutes of that loss.

"When I've called timeouts lately, it's been to call a play or change a defense," Williams said. "It's not to say, 'Hey, fellas, we're going to have to do better than this if we want to win this game.' Their focus has been noticeable the last 10 days. It's been pretty good."

Pretty good?

In the past three games, forward Rodney Elliott has hauled down 37 rebounds, including 17 Saturday against Temple, the most by an ACC player this season. When guard Sarunas Jasikevicius stopped by Cole Field House to get treatment for his ailing left knee two weeks ago, he also squeezed in some extra shooting.

"You see that in November and December, but as you get into the season, guys get tired of doing that," Williams said. "It's a real good sign they're doing that this time of year."

Last season, when Maryland faded after a 17-2 start, Keith Booth was the only senior experiencing the last gasp of his college career. This time, the Terps are top-heavy with veterans likes seniors Elliott and Jasikevicius, who appear bent on making the most of March.

Junior forward Laron Profit isn't saying that the Terps stack up to the Chicago Bulls, but he does see a parallel.

"Right now, we're like the Zen Family," Profit said. "Phil Jackson would come in here and be proud of us. You know how he always talks about harmony? Right now, everyone's mind-set is the same."

There's a chip on their collective shoulder, and Profit said, "No one wants to give this program any credit." No. 1 Duke and Maryland are the only teams with wins over two of the nation's top four teams. The regular-season gap between mighty North Carolina and Maryland isn't any bigger than the one the Terps had on fourth place.

Maryland, which hasn't been in an ACC tournament final since it won it all in 1984, is getting little notice and less respect here. In their last three games on Tobacco Road, the Terps lost by 12 at Wake Forest, 27 at Duke and 18 at North Carolina.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has brought out some of the best in Maryland, in part because it has strongly defended the Yellow Jackets' three-point shooters, like freshman Dion Glover. The Yellow Jackets are one of the most productive teams in the ACC beyond the arc, along with Wake Forest and Duke, the only teams to sweep the Terps.

Maryland is a lock for a school-record fifth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Sixth-seeded Georgia Tech (17-12, 6-10) is in a must-win situation after three straight losses, the first coming Feb. 21 at Cole.

"To get into the [NCAA] tournament, we have to beat Maryland," said Matt Harpring, the three-time ACC all-star forward who's averaging 22.0 points and 9.6 rebounds. "We really have to go out there and prove to the committee that we deserve to be in."

Are the Terps ready to play with that type of resolve? The empirical data points to them being no lower than a fourth seed when the NCAA field is announced Sunday, but if they want to pad their resume further, they must do something they haven't done all season: push a win streak to four games. Some have grander schemes than that.

"Look, if we win the ACC tournament, we could be a two," Jasikevicius said of the NCAA seeding process. "It's all up to us."

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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