From home office in College Park The Top 10 reasons Terps are still playing

March 16, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

On Jan. 3, Maryland was run off its own court by Duke, and there were plenty of questions about the Terps. Just about every answer Gary Williams has received since then, however, has been positive.

The Terps won five of their next six games to take command of third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. There was another ugly loss at Duke, but Maryland since has gone 9-3, and you have to search back to 1983-84, when Len Bias led them to their last ACC championship, to find a stronger stretch drive by the Terps.

Maryland meets Arizona in the West Regional semifinals in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, and analysts give the Terps a decent shot at beating the defending NCAA champions. Here's the Top 10 countdown on why that could happen, and why Maryland is still playing.

10. Elliott's emergence

How many other first-year starters in the nation have had as big an impact as Rodney Elliott? Granted, the senior forward from Dunbar High is by no means a rookie, but he has done a fine job filling Keith Booth's shoes. He has thrown his 220 pounds around more in the last month, and he's averaged a double double, 16.0 points and 10.7 rebounds, in the past seven games.

9. M&Ms

Forward Terence Morris and center Mike Mardesich were limited to eight minutes apiece in the second-round win over Illinois, but Maryland wouldn't have won 18 games in the regular season without the freshmen, who made for a deeper, fresher team than last season's.

Each player in the eight-man rotation has appeared in all 31 games. Sarunas Jasikevicius, the senior guard from Lithuania, has had to have fluid drained from his left knee, but other than that, the Terps have been remarkably healthy.

8. Fewer fouls

Mardesich and Morris haven't had to rescue the Terps lately because Elliott and Obinna Ekezie have avoided foul trouble. Elliott had nine disqualifications in the Terps' first 23 games, one in the last eight. Ekezie fouled out four times in the first 17 games. In the last 14, he's been disqualified once.

7. 3-2 zone

Williams has always been an unabashed advocate of man-to-man defense, but this year Maryland has gotten a lot of mileage out of a 3-2 zone that features either Laron Profit or Morris out top, and sometimes utilizes both of those wingspans. It first paid dividends at N.C. State Jan. 10, most recently against Illinois.

6. SJ3

That's the scoring shorthand for a three-pointer by Jasikevicius, which has been a staple lately. Heading into the regular-season finale against Temple, he was shooting 35.9 percent beyond the arc. Since then he's hit 56.6 percent (17 of 30).

5. Four go-to guys

It was suggested earlier that Maryland was struggling because it LTC didn't have a single go-to guy, like Booth. The Terps still don't have a player in that role, but what had been construed as a weakness might now be a strength. Jasikevicius can beat you. So can Elliott and Profit. Ask Illinois about Ekezie.

"Who was Arizona's go-to guy last year?" Profit asked. "When Kentucky won the national title [in 1996], did they have a single go-to guy? Sometimes balance can be a good thing."

4. Stokes' steadier hand

Williams winced when junior Terrell Stokes rushed a couple of three-point attempts in the closing minutes against Illinois, but he has been pleased with the work the junior point guard has done since he regained his starting position in mid-January. Stokes averaged 4.1 assists in Maryland's first 20 games. In the last 11, he's averaged 5.1. He deserves some credit for the Terps' improved efficiency in their half-court offense.

3. No respect

Williams and his players said this season was all that mattered, but Maryland seemed determined to silence the critics who harped on the program's first-round failures in the past two NCAA tournaments. The ACC all-star team didn't include a player from Maryland among the top 10, and the name of Rodney Dangerfield is invoked often in the locker room.

2. Fast-starting seniors

Maryland led Illinois 28-15. It raced to a 14-3 lead on Utah State. The Terps started well against North Carolina in the ACC semifinals, a day after they jumped out to an 8-2 lead and never trailed Georgia Tech. Elliott, Jasikevicius and backup point guard Matt Kovarik could be the catalysts there.

"I'm not trying to be modest, but that's not the coach," Williams said. "Our seniors are making sure the others are ready to play. There's a time for joking around in the locker room, but Rodney lets everyone know when that time's over."

1. Synergy

Williams was asked to describe the way six veterans and two freshmen have bonded.

"I think the word is synergy, the common goal being the priority," Williams said. "There's a reason why they care about each other so much. Look at our starters. Rodney didn't start until he was a senior, Sarunas until he was a junior. Terrell and Laron didn't start as freshmen. Nobody walked onto this team and was given a job.

"They've had to earn everything they've got, and that makes a difference."

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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