UM hot, but not ready to boil

Mild-mannered Terps face Clemson, pursue 7th straight ACC win

February 22, 2000|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams has ended his crusade to transform a young and mostly quiet Maryland basketball team into a fiery group of players that displays its emotions in front of sellout crowds around the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"This team has developed its own personality, which is pretty interesting," Williams said yesterday. "I was on them early to be more outgoing and things like that, but they're not. So they haven't let that bother them, and they've created their own type personality as a team, which is what you want. You want your team to be honest. They're honest about themselves."

Obviously, six straight ACC victories have prompted Williams to back off from his original intentions to breathe more fire into laid-back Terence Morris and stir Lonny Baxter's emotions on a more consistent basis.

No. 19 Maryland will go after a seventh straight ACC victory at 8 tonight at always-tough Littlejohn Coliseum, where the Terps (19-7, 8-4 conference) meet the struggling Clemson Tigers (9-16, 3-9).

Clemson has won nine of the past 11 meetings with Maryland at Littlejohn, and the Tigers almost made it 10 of 11 last season before dropping an 81-79 decision in overtime to the heavily favored Terps.

If Maryland makes it seven in a row in the ACC, it will equal the school mark established by the 1973-74 squad that included Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas.

Now, Williams has realized that Morris is going to be Morris no matter how much preaching anybody does. It appears that the standout from Frederick will never be a rah-rah player unless the moment is right, like at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Morris showed some rare streaks of excitement after throwing in a couple of crucial three-pointers in a monumental 98-87 upset of Duke nearly two weeks ago.

"Terence did do a little dance when he came off the court the other day at Wake Forest," Williams said. "I don't know what that was."

Morris has a personality similar to former Maryland standout Larry Gibson, who had a lot of quickness and talent at the center position but never developed into an aggressive and physical player despite four years of prodding by former Terps coach Lefty Driesell from 1976 through 1979.

The only player to show a lot of intensity game after game for Maryland is a newly celebrated Juan Dixon, who is drawing raves around the league for his scoring tear over the past 11 games. Dixon has averaged 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 steals in that stretch and prompted Wake Forest coach Dave Odom to heap high praise on him.

Odom went so far as to compare Dixon to Steve Francis on Saturday after the former Calvert Hall standout scored 20 points and had four steals and three assists in a 73-67 victory over the Demon Deacons.

"Steve Francis, you just cannot replace that guy. And I'm telling you, they did," Odom said. "What was Steve Francis? He was an extraordinary offensive player who was a terrific defensive player. What is Juan Dixon? He's an extraordinary offensive player who is a brilliant defensive player."

When Dixon was asked yesterday if he had heard about or read Odom's comments, the shooting guard said, "No, I didn't," and he seemed content to let it go without elaborating.

Dixon seemed more concerned about playing tonight in front of the always rowdy Clemson fans, who sit close to the court and make a lot of noise.

"It's a scary game for us," said Dixon, who was named ACC Player of the Week yesterday for the second straight week for his performances against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. "Clemson has nothing to lose and will throw everything at us. We won't know what to expect. It's so tough to beat them down there. I was fortunate last year to win in my first game on that court."

However, Dixon said the team's confidence has improved vastly with three straight road wins in the league, and he believes Maryland will find a way to cope better with adversity tonight than it did in road losses earlier in this season to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

"We're a lot better team than we were back then," said Dixon, who will be dueling Clemson's Will Solomon for the ACC scoring lead in conference games. "We've learned a lot about ourselves."

Dixon and Solomon are tied for the scoring lead in 12 ACC games, each averaging 21.6 points, and they are 1-2 in overall scoring with Solomon at 21.3 and Dixon at 18.7.

"Will Solomon has games where he just goes off in scoring," Williams said. "We have to go down there and try to go inside and outside with the ball. We can't just go in there and throw the ball up from the outside. Maryland has taken a lot of good teams down there over the years and had a lot of trouble. If I tell my players to just look at our record down there, it should make them realize this will be a tough game."

Williams figures that Clemson will throw a lot of different defenses at the Terps, including a box-and-one, a triangle-and-two, zone and man-to-man.

"Just so we're ready to play like we've been the last six times out in the league," Williams said.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Clemson (9-16, 3-9 ACC)

Time: 8

Site: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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