Terps hope for victory salute

Senior Day offers `another chance' at No. 7 Virginia

March 03, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The thought of beating Virginia and helping his team to continue its hard drive toward the postseason will be in the forefront of his mind today, but Maryland senior forward Terence Morris also will feel the past as he prepares to compete for the final time at Cole Field House.

Morris' name will be called in a few months on NBA Draft Day, after which he will sign a lucrative contract with a yet-to-be-determined team, after which life will change in ways he probably can't imagine. But, Morris also can't imagine having more fun than he has had in the steamy old building off Route 1.

"I don't think anything is more exciting than college basketball, especially playing here," said Morris, who resisted the temptation of leaving college a year early for the pro ranks. "There's nothing better than playing college basketball on national TV and having fun. I've had some up-and-down situations, but I've had a lot of good memories."

It's Senior Day, and Morris - joined by backups Mike Mardesich and LaRon Cephas - will be honored before No. 16 Maryland tries to complete a stirring, late regular-season run by knocking off the No. 7 Cavaliers and securing a third-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That would give the Terps (19-9, 9-6) their fifth consecutive victory and secure the No. 3 seed in next week's ACC tournament in Atlanta, where Maryland would face sixth-seeded Wake Forest at the Georgia Dome in Friday's quarterfinal round at approximately 9:30 p.m. A loss would make the Terps a No. 4 seed and pair them with No. 5 Georgia Tech on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

A victory also would give Maryland its fifth straight 20-win season and a finish of at least third in the conference for the fourth straight year.

The resurgent Terps, who are fresh off Tuesday's 91-80 upset over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and have erased a 1-5 slump by winning four straight games by an average of 16.5 points, also have a little payback on their minds.

In the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 31, four days after Maryland had blown a 10-point lead late in regulation before dropping an overtime decision here to Duke - which started that 1-5 crash - Virginia welcomed the Terps to Charlottesville with a 99-78 rout.

"You look forward to playing everybody in this league. We didn't play well down there at all. They beat us pretty good," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Now, we have another chance to play."

One can sense the Terps are smelling some blood today. Sure, the Cavaliers, blessed with one of their most athletic teams in recent memory, can run and gun with the best of them.

With workhorses like forward Chris Williams (15.0 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game) and center Travis Watson (9.2 rpg), a lightning-quick point guard in Donald Hand (6.2 assists per game), a pure scorer in Roger Mason (15.0 ppg) and forward Adam Hall, Virginia's answer to high-flying Terps freshman Chris Wilcox, Virginia (20-6, 9-6) has clinched its first 20-win season in six years.

But the Cavs also have been glaringly vulnerable away from University Hall. Virginia is 2-5 in ACC road games, having beaten only Clemson and Florida State. And the Maryland team the Cavs will see today in no way resembles the wounded bunch that came to Charlottesville.

"We came off a devastating loss against Duke, and we didn't recuperate after that game," said Morris, a two-time All-ACC player. "We're probably playing the best ball we've played all year. I think it's definitely going to be a different Terps team than the first time we played."

The Terps are riding the hot shooting hand of Juan Dixon, who has 81 points in his last three games. Point guard Steve Blake is averaging 9.1 points and eight assists in his last five games. Center Lonny Baxter is staying out of foul trouble and controlling the low post.

Today might be the day that Morris, an up-and-down player in a roller-coaster year, snaps out of a puzzling shooting slump. In his last seven games, he has shot just 32 percent and made only two of 20 three-point attempts, averaging only 8.6 points.

Today is also the day Morris and his lower-profile sidekicks get their ceremonial moment. Williams probably will start Mardesich and Cephas, fifth-year seniors who have had checkered days in College Park.

Mardesich had a noticeable impact in his first year and appeared headed for possible stardom, but has settled into a backup role ever since. He has given Maryland steady production this year, averaging four points and 2.7 rebounds and 11 minutes. Cephas battled a hernia and knee injuries early in his career and has never averaged more than 5.3 minutes a season.

But don't underestimate the influence the pair has had on the Terps this year, in the locker room and on the practice court.

When Maryland went into its funk, Williams, known for berating a player or two during a game, took the positive route and called heavily on Mardesich and Cephas to be patrolmen, of sorts.

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