Miller to sit out Terps' first dance

Limping forward won't start in NCAA opener against Iona

Holden, Nicholas are ready

`We'll see how well I can get' in short period

March 16, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NCAA tournament will begin with some improvisation from Maryland.

Sophomore forward Danny Miller sat out his second straight practice yesterday, and he might be unavailable when the third-seeded Terps take on 14th-seeded Iona in an NCAA tournament Midwest Regional opener tonight. It is the policy of coach Gary Williams not to start a player who missed the previous day's practice.

Freshmen Tahj Holden and Drew Nicholas have been readied to start at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Nicholas would give the Terps a three-guard lineup against a quick, athletic upstart, but limit Maryland's options off the bench. More likely is a start for Holden, which would shift Terence Morris to small forward and increase the Terps' size advantage.

"If Danny can't play, we've had some practice with the other guys," Williams said. "We can't let it affect us. Danny is a good role player, and we'll miss his defense more than anything if he can't play."

Miller sprained his left ankle in the first half of Sunday's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, and was used for only nine minutes in an 81-68 loss to No. 1 Duke. He has been undergoing whirlpool treatments and elevating the leg, trying to reduce the swelling on the inside of his ankle.

"We'll make a decision tomorrow [today] on whether I can play," said Miller, who talked about the necessity of not practicing. "I just didn't want to put any more stress on it. This is very difficult, because I want to be practicing with the team, getting ready for tomorrow. We'll see how well I can get in a short period of time.

"It's hard to sit and watch, especially this time of year. Other times of the year, you can take your time. This time of year, you lose and you go home."

Nicholas started the second half against Duke, when Williams said he wanted to disrupt only one position, small forward, instead of two, that and Morris' power forward spot. Holden started in place of Morris against Clemson on Jan. 22, when the junior rested an ankle sprain. That's the last time a Maryland regular missed a game.

"I'm pretty much prepared to start if I have to," Holden said. "I had to do it earlier when Terence was hurt. Even with Danny in there, we have a height advantage on them. With Terence moving to the three, that makes us even bigger. Their front line, can they handle that?"

In a tournament that is supposed to be as wide-open as any in NCAA history, uncertainty about its rotation would normally add to the Terps' apprehension, but Maryland (24-9) has some sure things that Iona (20-10) does not.

The Gaels have a splendid slasher in Tariq Kirksay, who has had 10 days to recover from the back injury he incurred when he hit the floor hard in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game. Miller would probably mark Kirksay under normal circumstances, so Maryland could play some zone.

Coach Jeff Ruland's team has surged since senior Jason Young won back the starting point guard spot he had lost to freshman Maceo Wofford. Juan Dixon and Steve Blake will oblige if Iona wants to run, and center Lonny Baxter poses matchup problems for the Gaels.

"There's a reason they're a three seed," said Ruland, who was the center in 1980 on the last Iona team to win an NCAA tournament game. "In some ways, I think they parallel us a little bit. They only play eight guys, and I really like the kid Blake at the point; he's a little like Jason.

"They have a real wide-body in Baxter. We have some size, but he's what Al McGuire used to call an aircraft carrier."

Iona is down to eight scholarship players and a walk-on who moonlights on Staten Island as a male stripper. The Gaels do have five holdovers from 1998, when Syracuse made a late three-pointer to repel Iona in the first round.

An upset loss might be the only way Maryland gets noticed here.

UCLA has the tradition, but Iowa State has the top seed and the top star, Marcus Fizer. Auburn has been scrutinized during the Chris Porter saga, and the New York tabloids are here to chronicle Central Connecticut State and Iona. It was not a stretch for fans of Ball State and Creighton to drive here.

Williams awoke yesterday to a Minneapolis Star Tribune that featured a story on issues facing college basketball. An accompanying chart showed Maryland with the worst graduation rate among the teams here. It also picked up a story from the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer on Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year.

The Terps have been in the Top 25 since November, but they got more respect from the NCAA, which projected Maryland as one of the top 12 teams in the field, than the pollsters.

Williams and Morris are shooting for their third straight Sweet 16, as Maryland was last knocked out in the first round in 1997. That's when the Terps lost to the College of Charleston in Memphis, Tenn., where rains had bloated the Mississippi River to levels not seen since the Great Flood of '27.

The Metrodome sits four blocks from the mighty river. Danny Miller or no, the Terps seem poised to make some happier history on it.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Iona (20-10)

What: First round, NCAA Midwest Regional

When: 7: 55

Where: Metrodome, Minneapolis

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

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