Terps show their stuff to UCLA Acing first real test, they race past No. 10 in semifinal, 70-54

November 28, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico -- Maryland beat a feeble opponent by 50 points. It faced a famed one yesterday and was up by 21 with four minutes left, but the Terps still haven't been the most impressive outfit at the Puerto Rico Shootout.

The nation's No. 5 team completed business in its half of the draw with a convincing, 70-54 victory over No. 10 UCLA. It's been upset city on the other side, where unranked Pittsburgh beat No. 4 Kentucky, 68-56, to join the Terps in tonight's championship game at Eugenio Guerra Sport Complex.

The Panthers have shown superb chemistry in handling No. 13 Xavier and Kentucky. Maryland's teamwork also has been solid, as the Terps (6-0) passed their first significant test of the season by unleashing their balanced attack on a rudderless Bruins ship.

"We were playing a ranked team with a lot of history, a lot of national championships," senior point guard Terrell Stokes said. "We had a challenge to prove that we can play against the best of them."

Maryland's roster doesn't carry the pedigree of UCLA's, but the Terps played with more direction, thanks in part to Stokes. Whereas he kept the Terps on track, sophomore point guard Baron Davis is still rehabilitating a knee injury, and without him the Bruins don't know what to do with all of their talent.

Sophomore Earl Watson had 16 second-half points for the Bruins (2-1), but he also was charged with seven of their season-high 24 turnovers. Stokes matched his four assists, and his seven rebounds and five steals made up for three turnovers in a loosely called affair.

"Terrell's been like a coach on the floor," said Gary Williams, who really runs the Terps. "He knows when to pull the ball back in transition, and that's valuable. There are a lot of teams that would love to have a guy who can get them into their half-court offense."

The Terps' best option was Terence Morris, the sophomore forward from Frederick who was the best finisher on the floor. While nearly everyone else had trouble getting their shots down in a rugged game, the "Quiet Man" matched his career high with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds.

At 6 feet 9, Morris was too quick for some defenders and too tall for others. Maryland was ahead 33-26 in the second minute of the second half when Stokes made a lovely feed to Morris for a slam that began a decisive 11-2 run.

The Bruins had started in a zone, and it wasn't until Juan Dixon provided his instant offense that the contest turned.

UCLA had no inside game until Steve Lavin inserted freshman center Dan Gadzuric, who had sprained his right hand in a first-round win over San Francisco. He sparked a 9-0 run that got the Bruins their only lead at 17-15 with 11: 19 left in the first half, before the Terps sought Dixon on three straight possessions.

The redshirt freshman from Calvert Hall hit from the left corner to put the Terps on top for good with 11: 10 left. After he missed a three, he came right back on the next trip with a long-distance connection from the top of the key. When Stokes added a three from the left corner, the Terps had a 24-17 lead and the Bruins never got closer than five.

"He's our catalyst," Williams said of Dixon. "Juan has the courage to look for his shot. He'll miss two, and he still wants the ball. When I've had shooters like that, they've usually been in the starting lineup."

Oh yeah, two guard Steve Francis overcame a shaky start with a second half that displayed how he can break down a defense. The junior college transfer made all five of his shots in the second half, when the Terps spread the floor and the difference got as large as 60-37 on his foul-line jumper with 8: 38 left.

"I thought we did a good job defensively with our matchup zone, but when they got up 14, 15 we had to go to the man-to-man and I knew with their quickness and experience they could exploit it," Lavin said.

Maryland's eight-point lead at the half could have been 18 if the Terps had shot better than 35.7 percent (10-for-28). Their defense was a constant, and it had better be today against a flexible Pittsburgh team.

"Our guys were ready to play defense," Williams said. "Our post men were allowed to play individual defense, because our perimeter guys didn't allow UCLA's to penetrate."

It didn't matter to the Terps that UCLA was banged up and playing with less rest as well as with 12 freshmen and sophomores. After an 82-32 win in the first round over a depleted host team from American University of Puerto Rico, the Terps gave thanks for a more severe challenge. Williams knows the Terps need work, as his first five was still on the floor with three minutes left.

"We wanted to let everyone know that Maryland was for real," Laron Profit said. "That's been the question in everyone's mind. When people look at the newspaper, see this score on 'SportsCenter,' they'll know we're for real."

Terps tonight

Opponent: Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico Shootout final

Site: Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Time: 8

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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