Winless N. Texas served to Terps Expected holiday feast still concerns Williams

December 23, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

So far, the month of December has been filled with difficult opponents for fifth-ranked Maryland: a win over ACC rival Wake Forest, battles against Stanford and DePaul, and a tough loss at Kentucky.

Tonight at Cole Field House, Maryland gets North Texas. Translation: a Christmas gift they get to unwrap two days early.

The nation's longest streak of home wins over nonconference opponents (62) should not be at risk against a young North Texas team that is 0-8 after a 28-point loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday. A team filled with 13 freshmen or transfers, North Texas has lost by an average of 26.5 points.

An indication that this should be no contest is the common opponent of the teams: the Princeton team that Maryland hammered by 23 points Saturday (81-58) had blown out North Texas by 20 (68-48) on its home court earlier this month.

Still, as a coach, you have to find something to keep your team on edge. For Maryland's Gary Williams, he pointed to the time of the year.

"It's not a good time to play," Williams said yesterday. "You worry about the holiday season because players think about different things. Most guys would like to be home.

"We have to make sure we get ready to play," Williams said. "We coach this game and get ready to play just like every other game."

North Texas, which hasn't lived up to its nickname of the Mean Green, is in the process of rebuilding. The Big West team has just one player back from last season (senior forward Charles Washington, 13.4 points and 9.6 rebounds), and starts three freshmen.

The team is hoping to get help from two transfer players who just became eligible, forward Sam Funches (from Connecticut) and guard Michael Colter (from Baylor). Both became eligible in Saturday's loss to Louisiana Tech.

"They have very good quickness," Williams said. "That they've struggled so far is because they've played two home games and have played a good schedule.

"That combination has made it tough," Williams added. "They have two guys eligible now that they haven't had before. The two have been practicing with the team, so we'll see what happens."

At 11-1, Williams doesn't want his team to make any changes. With any type of effort, Maryland should be able to build on its 31-home-game winning streak for December dating back to the 1989-90 season, and Williams' return to College Park.

"It's important we stay with what we do," Williams said. "The important thing is maintaining our offense and our defense."

That offense is spread around with six players averaging in double figures (Terence Morris and Steve Francis lead the way with 16.5 points per game). Defensively, the Terps are averaging an impressive 14.2 steals per game. That includes 17 steals on Saturday against Princeton, a normally patient and heady team that was forced into 29 turnovers.

With the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference season approaching, Williams has to feel good about his team's depth, which has allowed him to play a nine-man rotation.

Three of the four top reserves off the bench -- Juan Dixon, Danny Miller and Lonny Baxter -- are freshmen. Dixon is the top scorer, averaging 10.3 points, and is hitting more than half of his shots (50.3 percent) from three-point range.

"There was no doubt in my mind that he could play," Williams said of Dixon, a Calvert Hall alum who scored 13 points in his Baltimore homecoming against Princeton at the Arena. "He's everything I thought he was going to be.

"The fact Danny and Lonny have contributed, everybody talks about our depth. They've proven they could play, and that's been a pleasant surprise."

Terps tonight

Opponent: North Texas

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 8

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Line: Terps by 43

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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