'Cats-Terps takes on fresh face

Only 2 starters remain from when Ky. denied UM of No. 1 last year

NIT foes ranked, unproven

For many, `it's their first walk into Garden'

November 24, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- When Maryland last met Kentucky, the Wildcats were defending NCAA champions and the Terps were in position to claim their first-ever No. 1 ranking.

The stakes aren't as high, but the stage is a little grander, as two programs that are reliant this time on potential, not proven talent, will collide at Madison Square Garden tonight at 8 in the second semifinal of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.

Arizona and upstart Notre Dame meet in the first semifinal, with the consolation and championship scheduled for Friday. The Preseason NIT's final four is Exhibit A in the argument that the lack of veterans among many of the powers that be in college basketball will make for an unpredictable season.

Combined, the four teams here start just two seniors, and one of them, Kentucky center Jamaal Magloire, really didn't want to come back to Lexington. NBA operatives told him he would be a second-round pick at best in last June's draft, so he returned to anchor a team where the rebuilding is similar to Maryland's.

The Terps have four new starters, as do the Wildcats, so coaches Gary Williams and Tubby Smith were hesitant to draw any parallels to last year's game at Rupp Arena. Then No. 2 after a 10-0 start, Maryland and its chance at the No. 1 ranking went down in a 103-91 loss.

Ohio State, the biggest lock in this 16-team tournament, was bounced out in the first round by Notre Dame. No. 24 Maryland (3-0) is capable of winning the thing or going 0-2.

"That's what's good," the Terps' Williams said of the fresh faces here. "You don't know [what's going to happen]. For a lot of these guys, on both teams, it's their first walk into the Garden."

Junior forward Terence Morris was a preseason All-American, but it's the first time on national television for freshmen Steve Blake, Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden.

"This is a new experience for them," Williams said, "so our veterans are the guys I'm looking to lead us."

The Terps almost didn't get here. Juan Dixon, a sophomore guard from Calvert Hall, pulled them past Tulane in the final three minutes of the second half. En route to a 27-10 lead, the Dons attacked the Terps' trademark pressure, the same path Kentucky followed in its defeat of Maryland Dec. 12.

"Going into that game, our pressure was working for us, and they [Kentucky] exploited it," Dixon said. "They were going up and down the sidelines, so I'm sure they might attack us with the same thing. They just kept attacking our pressure last year."

That was the only time in 78 games under Smith that Kentucky has gone over 100 points. The Wildcats' first two games in the Preseason NIT were grinders against Penn (67-50) and Utah (56-48), and the Wildcats relish the prospect of picking up the pace against the Terps.

"We were able to win two games in which the other team tried to control the game," Smith told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We can play a lot of different ways. We're suited to pushing the tempo. Saul likes to push the ball a lot."

That would be Saul Smith, Tubby's son, a junior who replaced mainstay Wayne Turner at the point. Scott Padgett and Heshimu Evans also completed their eligibility, and there was an unexpected departure when center Michael Bradley transferred to Villanova.

With Magloire (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Marvin Stone, a 6-10 McDonald's All-American, No. 11 Kentucky (2-0) still has a presence in the middle.

Smith is waiting for someone from among the group of wings Tayshaun Prince, Desmond Allison and Keith Bogans, a freshman from DeMatha, to bust loose. The Wildcats have been unimpressive on the perimeter -- they have made seven of 30 three-point attempts -- so look for Williams to try the 3-2 zone he's used in all three of Maryland's games.

Tonight begins a seven-game, 18-day stretch in which five of Maryland's opponents could be ranked. It will conclude Dec. 11, against this same Kentucky team.

"This [Kentucky] is as big as any team in the ACC, and as physical," Williams said. "You see where you are, and then you've got some time to get ready for the conference. You want to get checked in November and December."

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