UM book good read 'til last page

UCLA rout aside, team rose to '00 challenge, despite lack of seniors

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Gary Williams tore Page 47 out of the program that fans at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome could purchase during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional.

That page had UCLA's team photo and roster. Williams wanted a keepsake of another ignominious exit from the tournament for his Maryland basketball program, but the Terps don't really need a concrete reminder of the Bruins. How will they ever forget the 105-70 humiliation that UCLA heaped on them Saturday night?

Last season ended with an equally disturbing loss for Maryland fans, but that setback to St. John's hurt Williams more, because it was the final college game for Steve Francis and a senior class that featured three distinguished veterans.

This Terps team didn't have a single senior on scholarship. The guys will miss walk-on Matt Hahn, but should junior forward Terence Morris decide to stay a fourth year in College Park, Williams has the makings of the deepest team he's had in a head coaching career that's into its third decade.

Depth was definitely a problem in the second round of the tournament, when UCLA left Maryland behind with a 31-4 run over 10 minutes that spanned halftime. The Bruins had too many good genes for the Terps, who failed to compete for the first time this season.

"We came down from 17 and won this year," Williams said. "Once you do that, you think you can do it again, turn on the switch. It never happened. We didn't play with a high enough [work] rate. We didn't play with the intensity that we needed."

Freshman point guard Steve Blake complained of an upset stomach afterward. If he doesn't have the flu, he was made sick by Earl Watson, his junior counterpart, who had the line of his life: 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range, a school-record 16 assists, four steals and no turnovers.

Williams disagreed with the observation that the Terps came out flat in the biggest game of the season, but joined the second-guessing of his preparation.

Ball State's zone had troubled UCLA in the first round, but Maryland never used its 3-2. The game began with a head-scratching matchup: Jerome Moiso powered his way past Morris twice in the first minute, while Lonny Baxter defended on the perimeter.

"I want the blame for the way we played," Williams said late Saturday night. "I'll look at it very closely, how we prepared. Physically, we weren't there, for whatever reason. We had a great practice [Friday]. You do what you always do. Everyone seemed to be paying attention. The locker room was fine before the game."

Tournament roadblock

It was Maryland's worst loss since 1993. The Terps have been in the NCAA tournament every year since but have not gotten past the Sweet 16, and that run has become a seven-year itch for Williams, his players and Maryland fans.

"We had too good of a year," Williams said, when asked if the UCLA loss would dim the Terps' accomplishments. "It's an old story. We lose arguably the best player in the country [Francis]. We start a freshman and three sophomores and win 25 games. This hurts, no doubt about it.

"Win, and everybody remembers it [the season] in a positive way. Lose, and everyone remembers it in a negative way."

The campaign was framed by two ugly bookends -- the Tamir Goodman saga and UCLA -- but in between was a season in which Maryland exceeded expectations. Picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and unranked in the preseason, the Terps went 11-5 in the conference, 25-10 overall and were ranked as high as No. 14 before they began ACC play with an 0-3 blip.

Deemed one of the nation's top 12 teams by the NCAA, Maryland was doomed by a second-round game against a team hitting its stride.

The Terps peaked emotionally during a glorious four days in early February, when they posted a gallant comeback on N.C. State and a gritty win at Duke. While Maryland backed down from UCLA, it is the only team in the ACC to stand up to the Blue Devils in the past two seasons -- the Terps' Feb. 9 conquest at Cameron Indoor Stadium was one for the ages.

Williams got another monkey off his back when Maryland made its first ACC tournament championship game since 1984. The Terps developed chemistry and the talent in their underclasses, but the fact remains that it was a good year to rebuild in the conference.

The grading curve dipped so low in the ACC this season, Maryland's D game was good enough to beat N.C. State in the semifinals. Several programs could improve next season, but so should the Terps.

Waiting on Morris

Morris is the major question mark facing Maryland. Though it was a foregone conclusion that Francis would be gone after one season in Maryland, Morris' NBA stock has probably dropped this season. Projected as one of the top picks in the 2000 draft when he was a preseason All-American last November, Morris is now viewed more as a mid-first-round choice.

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