Puerto Rico is sunny for UM, 82-32 Terps ease to 5th rout in row, but face 1st test against UCLA today

Only 1 Pirate is over 6-3

Ekezie: Hopefully, we'll play a real game now

November 27, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico -- They're rested.

Are they ready?

No. 5 Maryland took its turkey early yesterday afternoon, when the Terps obliterated an outmanned host in the first round of the Puerto Rico Shootout. Maryland had leads of 15-0 and 31-5 en route to a curious 82-32 pounding of American University of Puerto Rico.

"I don't think I've played against guys like that since high school," senior center Obinna Ekezie said. "Hopefully, we'll get to play a real game now."

Wish granted. A ridiculous laugher concluded an extended preseason for the 5-0 Terps, who in today's semifinals will begin a rugged stretch of games, several against teams with comparable talent and finer histories.

They'll meet No. 10 UCLA today (1: 30 p.m.), and their first real challenge also will be their first televised (ESPN2) appearance. The other semifinal (11 a.m.) at Eugenio Guerra Sport Complex pits No. 4 Kentucky against Pittsburgh. The Terps will play in the championship or third-place game tomorrow.

Other than getting a feel for the rims and lighting, the Terps learned absolutely nothing yesterday that they didn't know from four blowouts at Cole Field House.

Coach Gary Williams said earlier that he would be playing in a "high school gym," and on Tuesday he learned he also would be getting an opponent of that caliber, no offense to DeMatha or Dunbar.

According to tournament officials and AUPR coach Pep Carlos, the combination of graduation and its own unfamiliarity with the NCAA's eligibility clearinghouse procedures left the Pirates with few of the players who upset Arkansas and Alabama in tournaments a year ago on this Caribbean isle.

With Hurricane Georges contributing to the confusion, the Pirates began practice two weeks ago. Yesterday's game was their opener.

"It's not a game you enjoy playing, and it's a shame they couldn't put their best players out there," Williams said. "I first understood their circumstances two days ago. I tried to keep it from my players. You hear stuff about opponents, and you don't always know if it's accurate."

The truth was obvious during warm-ups, which included eight players for the Pirates, one taller than 6 feet 3. Williams called off his press in the fourth minute. He used 11 players in the first half.

Matt Hahn, the walk-on from Atholton High and son of assistant coach Billy, said, "I couldn't believe it," when he entered with 16 minutes left.

Freshman reserves Juan Dixon and Danny Miller tied for game honors with 14 points apiece.

"It feels like we've played five exhibition games," said Dixon, a redshirt guard out of Calvert Hall. "They [the Pirates] played hard and competed, but they were so small."

The only anxious moment for Maryland occurred when Steve Francis, the sublime junior-college transfer who will face his first top-flight competition over the next two days, slid out of bounds and into a press table in the first half. He went into the break with an ice pack on his left calf, but returned and played six minutes in the second half.

Williams used the situation to reward his bench with longer minutes, and it was a challenge not to break the school-record margin of victory of 67 points the Terps set against Western Carolina.

"You see you're going to win," Williams said, "and you can't tell guys not to play hard."

That will not be an issue this afternoon. UCLA, which held off a surprisingly tough San Francisco squad, 69-62, in the final first-round game last night to move to 2-0, has been slowed by injuries and the flu bug, but coach Steve Lavin might have the best crop of freshmen and sophomores in the nation.

Center Dan Gadzuric, possibly the best prospect from Holland since Rik Smits, prepped in Massachusetts the last three years. He was a Parade All-American, as were forward Jaron Rush and reserve guard Ray Young.

Point guard Baron Davis might have been the best freshman guard in the country last season, but it ended with him tearing up his left knee in the NCAA tournament, and he has yet to play.

"They're huge, and we haven't had to rebound against a team like this," Williams said. "They're also pretty young. We'll have to use our experience."

It will be 10: 30 a.m. on the West Coast when the game starts. No matter what the clock reads, it's time Maryland was tested.

Terps today

Opponent: No. 10 UCLA in Puerto Rico Shootout semifinals

Site: Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Time: 1: 30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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