Terps march toward Final Four

NCAA tournament: Maryland's team can keep fickle fans on its side. All it has to do is win.

March 22, 2001

WIN THE CROWD. That's the sage advice the protagonist got in the film "Gladiator."

Coach Gary Williams and the University of Maryland men's basketball team have finally done that, or so it seems.

But sports teams, like their fans, are fickle, enigmatic creatures. You can't always count on your team to win - unless your team is the Globetrotters - and you can't expect the fans you've won to stay. That's life, not art.

The Terrapins have overcome their embarrassing home-court loss to Duke in January. The "Gary must go" stirrings have died. The Terps are in the Sweet Sixteen and hopes of NCAA tournament supremacy are in full bloom. The fans are back on the bandwagon.

Of course, the crowd may turn if Maryland fails to advance past Georgetown in today's regional semifinal round. It shouldn't.

Since Coach Williams came here from Ohio State University 12 years ago, he has rebuilt a dysfunctional program that was exposed and shattered after star player Len Bias' death. Things aren't perfect - graduation rates could be higher - but the coach has turned things around remarkably well.

Coach Williams wins consistently at Maryland. He deserves more than ephemeral support.

Don't count on that. Winning means winning it all. Finishing No. 2 out of more than 300 Division I schools that begin the season competing for the title is failure as far as the crowd is concerned.

Let's hope Coach Williams and the Terps find a way to win the crowd - and bring the title home.

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