Kentucky trip not total Terps loss Champs expose UM's flaws, but ability to rally at Rupp adds comfort to first loss

December 14, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Maryland didn't find a victory at Kentucky, but it did discover the nature of the sustained ferocity it will take to win an NCAA title.

The Terps have a week to prepare for Princeton at the Baltimore Arena on Saturday, a week to focus on exams and not forget a 103-91 loss at Rupp Arena. A win for No. 2 Maryland might have given it its first-ever No. 1 ranking, but the Terps did take some comfort from the fact that their B game nearly beat the Wildcats at their best.

"I'm not worried about us. We've got some veteran guys who have been in wars," senior center Obinna Ekezie said. "We were playing against the national champions; don't forget that."

Some early shooting woes and an upset loss to Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico the day before the Panthers were pounded by Maryland had its legions of fans doubting Kentucky. Saturday's win over the Terps, whose perfect start was stopped at 10-0, has the Wildcats (9-1) thinking of a third NCAA title in four years, and the only programs that have enjoyed that kind of dominance were UCLA during the John Wooden era and Kentucky itself, in 1948-51.

The Wildcats needed all of their deep resources to subdue Maryland, which fell behind by 13 at the half when a desire to avoid foul trouble left the Terps with some lineups that were probably a little greener than coach Gary Williams would have liked in front of the ninth-largest crowd ever at Rupp.

Juan Dixon was the only Maryland reserve to score, and he was 1-for-5 from the field.

There was never a letup from Kentucky, and the Terps trailed by as many as 17 in the sixth minute of the second half. That they got within four twice in the final minute was a tribute to their grit, particularly the offensive resolve of their top two scorers, guard Steve Francis and forward Terence Morris.

Morris missed two early dunks in the open court and was 2-for-8 from the field in the first half, but he went 8-for-10 in the second, including a clutch three-pointer with 51 seconds left. Francis, the junior-college transfer who fully learned what it is to be a marked man, went 2-for-7 from the field before the break, but didn't back down and went 7-for-13 after it.

"Physically, they tried to knock us down, and a lot of teams are going to try to be physical with us from here on out," point guard Terrell Stokes said. "I told Steve, 'Keep going in and penetrating. Make a statement, let them know we're going to keep coming.' "

There was always a second or third defender in Francis' way, usually Jamaal Magloire, the backup center who might have been the difference between the teams. He had six blocks, the biggest a rejection of a Francis dunk attempt that would have gotten Maryland within six with two minutes left.

"As good as we played, Maryland was still able to put 91 points on the board," said Scott Padgett, the Kentucky forward whose matchup with Morris was a delight to watch. "That shows how good of a team they are."

Kentucky returns the date to Maryland next season, when one of the Wildcats' freshmen will be DeMatha's Keith Bogans and the Terps will be looking to replace Ekezie, Stokes and forward Laron Profit, and possibly Francis.

The Terps will test their sense of urgency in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wildcats are expected to cruise through the Southeastern Conference, and they are a real threat to make the NCAA championship game a fourth straight time.

The Final Four will be played at Tropicana Field in Florida, and a Kentucky bumper sticker reads "Meet Me In St. Pete." That would suit Maryland just fine.

"If there is a next time, we'll get them," Francis told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Count on it."

NOTES: The last time Maryland scored that many points in regulation and didn't win was in a 100-91 loss at Georgia Tech in the 1994-95 season. Former Maryland president William E. Kirwan, who earlier this year left College Park to run Ohio State, sat behind the Terps' bench. A Kentucky alum, Kirwan wore a black turtleneck and a gray blazer. Morris' field-goal percentage slipped, but only to .666. The Princeton game is sold out.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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