Time has come for bashers to get off Williams' back

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2001|By Mike Preston

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- OK, Gary bashers, time to hibernate until next season.

I know it's hard. He is defensive, thin-skinned and ornery at times. For a little guy with little shoulders, he carries a pretty big chip.

But it's time to find a new target. Call your stockbroker or kick the cat, but University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams is no longer available.

The albatross is gone.

The Terps got rid of it last night by defeating Georgetown, 76-66, in the West Regional semifinals at the Arrowhead Pond.

Say good riddance to the Sweet 16 and hello to the Elite Eight.

Finally.

Williams' history-making event occurred in a three quarter-filled dump last night called The Pond, but that's OK because we're talking about a bigger picture here.

After four previous attempts at Maryland, and two at Boston College, Williams is going to the Elite Eight.

Of course, Gary bashers will point out that Maryland had an easy road, playing No. 14 seed George Mason, No. 11 seed Georgia State and No. 10 seed Georgetown, but those arguments are no longer valid.

Would you rather be going to the next step with Gary Williams or flying home with Kentucky coach Tubby Smith?

For Gary bashers, the Terps' season was based on one game -- advancing past the Sweet 16. It's a done deal now, and the Terps have reached a new level.

No one will ever confuse Gary Williams with Dean Smith or John Wooden, but he deserves his props for what his team accomplished last night. Gary bashers have to concede, even as stubbornly as Al Gore gave in to George W. Bush.

Even if the Terps lose in the next round tomorrow against Stanford, or even if they get blown out, this season was a success, and a lot of credit has to be given to the guy who walks like "Mookie" in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing."

Admit it. Williams answered a lot of the questions that have haunted him since he came to Maryland. Can he coach a team that can go eight, nine or 10 deep on the bench? Can he bench a starter and put a new face in the lineup? Can he go deeper into the NCAA tournament without burning out his players?

Yes, yes and yes.

First of all, Williams has juggled his lineup well for most of the season, and he has gotten a lot of players involved. Last night, Terps starters Juan Dixon and Terence Morris struggled in the first half as the Hoyas tried to wear down Maryland on the inside.

Georgetown had several opportunities to take substantial leads in the first half, but Maryland refused to buckle, and the Terps got quality minutes from their reserves, particularly center Mike Mardesich and point guard Drew Nicholas.

Mardesich had five points in six first-half minutes, and Nicholas had four points and two assists in nine. During the final three minutes of the first half, Nicholas scored on a runner, made two foul shots and assisted on a layup by reserve forward Chris Wilcox.

"Every game, we're getting someone to step up," said Terps forward Danny Miller. "If something or someone isn't working, we're getting someone else to carry the load."

Miller is one of Williams' favorites, but Williams put him on the bench in game No. 5 in favor of junior transfer Byron Mouton. Miller has played well coming off the bench at times to put life into the team. Mouton averaged 10 points per game.

Nice mix.

Williams also changed his coaching style a little. He played nice. He was still crazed, a madman on the sideline, but he always seemed to find the positive, at least publicly.

Even when the team lost five of six in the middle of the season and was on the brink of collapse, Williams found a way to rally his troops, and the Terps became one of the hottest teams heading into postseason play, winning their final five regular-season games.

It was another right combination.

In all honesty, Williams has won with a team that doesn't have a legitimate center and power forward. Lonny Baxter is more of a power forward than a true center, yet he finished with 26 points last night in one of his best games ever against much taller competition.

The Terps won with Morris, supposedly a power forward, who hasn't played with much power and not lived up to preseason All-America status. The only true player who showed up almost every night was Dixon, a player a lot of Atlantic Coast Conference teams didn't want.

It's going to be hard for Gary bashers to be quiet. But they'll get their chance again. The Terps aren't great closers in tight games, and they haven't played well in two of three games during this tournament.

But for the bashers to start chirping before next season would be grossly unfair. Williams' supporters and critics have asked for an Elite Eight appearance, and he delivered.

Enough said.

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