UCLA puts on show

Terps don't show up

March 19, 2000|By JOHN EISENBERG

MINNEAPOLIS -- Give UCLA credit. Sure, absolutely. The Bruins played brilliantly against the Maryland Terrapins in their second-round NCAA tournament game last night at the Metrodome. Made 29 of their first 37 shots. Ran the floor like the Lakers. Went nuts on the Terps, basically.

If the Bruins keep playing that well, they'll run the table and win the tournament. It doesn't matter whom they play.

But they won't keep it up. No college team can. And you know what? They also won't be lucky enough to keep playing teams that fail to show up.

That's what happened last night. No question. As well as the Bruins played, it helped that the Maryland team that beat Duke, finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and drew a No. 3 seed didn't show up.

In its place was a team that played scared, unwisely, lethargically on defense -- just horribly.

No fire, no fight, a frightened look in the eyes.

Awful.

On paper, there's no shame in losing a second-round game to a UCLA team loaded with top recruits, a team that has gotten hot just in time after a disappointing season in which the Bruins almost failed to get an NCAA bid.

But in reality, the 105-70 loss was embarrassing for the Terps. Even worse than last season's no-show against St. John's in the Sweet 16.

In that loss, at least they made a little comeback after falling 26 points behind. Last night, they just caved in and played the Washington Generals to UCLA's Globetrotters.

In the final seconds, the goalie for UCLA's water polo team (a basketball walk-on) went the length of the court for two points, and the crowd cheered as an end-of-the-bench Bruins reserve rolled in a free throw.

Laughs galore. What an ignominious end to a Maryland season that, until last night, was all about exceeding expectations.

"We didn't play like this all year," Maryland coach Gry Williams said. "We weren't helping each other on defense. UCLA had open shots. But you still have to hit them, and they did. And then we just couldn't get it turned around, like we did earlier in the season."

Oh, sure, it will still go down as a positive season. Has to, right? The Terps lost four starters, started a freshman and three sophomores and accomplished all sorts of things. Beat Duke at Duke. Made the final of the ACC tournament for the first time in 16 years.

If junior Terence Morris returns, the Terps will make all the preseason Top 10 polls next season. Even if Morris goes to the NBA, the Terps will have another dangerous team.

But hey, next season's possibilities were no solace after last night's effort. The Terps were awful when they needed to be good, and that's two years in a row now. Two years of not just losing in the tournament, but getting crushed. Forgetting to show up. Laying an egg.

And this was the egg against which all can be measured.

What's weird is that the Terps were nothing if not consistent throughout the season, always showing up and putting up a game, even when they lost. Unlike some of Williams' prior teams, which tended to run hot and cold, this team was always pretty warm, occasionally hot and never ice cold.

Never a no-show.

Until last night.

Here's a lasting image from the debacle: UCLA's Jerome Moiso swatting Maryland's best bet, a runner from Morris, into the seats. Bored crowd roars, looking for any reason to avoid heading out into the light snowfall coming down.

Here's another lasting image: the Terps standing around on offense, completely bewildered and stymied by UCLA's 1-3-1 zone defense, as if the Bruins were using some magical, new defense instead of an old, reliable zone.

And here's one final, lasting image: UCLA scoring on four alley-oop dunks in the first half, as the flat-footed Terps stand around looking baffled by a basic Bruins play that every other UCLA opponent prepares for and successfully defends.

Did the Terps even watch tape of the Bruins before stepping onto the court last night?

Didn't look like it.

That's Terps coach Gary Williams' fault. At the end of one of his best seasons as a coach, he threw in a clunker himself last night. The Terps weren't ready to play. They looked grim and scared before the game, lost and terrified as it slipped away.

Things got so out of hand that Williams cooled down on the sidelines early in the second half, calling off his usual histrionics. There was no use.

Again, give UCLA credit. Lots of credit. The Bruins reached the game after surviving a turbulent regular season that included the suspension of forward JaRon Rush, who missed most of the season after it was determined he had accepted money from an agent and also from an AAU coach. The Bruins lost six of seven games at one point, falling to 13-11 and coming dangerously close to missing the NCAA tournament entirely.

But just when there was talk that UCLA coach Steve Lavin might lose his job, the Bruins won six straight games, including an upset of then-No. 1 Stanford, to earn an NCAA bid. Then they beat Ball State in the first round Thursday night, setting up last night's second-round game.

No one expected what happened. Least of all the Terps.

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