Wilcox's presence becomes a starting point for Terps

Back-to-back power games make him a noticed force

November 29, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Senior guard Juan Dixon, solid since the start of the season, played his best all-around game of the year. Junior backup guard Drew Nicholas shook off a four-game slump to produce his finest effort. Junior point guard Steve Blake just missed a double double and recorded a career-high four blocked shots, one of the signatures of a superb night for the Maryland Terrapins' defense.

But the player who left the most indelible mark on No. 5 Maryland's 76-63 pasting of No. 2 Illinois on Tuesday was 6-foot-10 sophomore forward/center Chris Wilcox, who came off the bench and was an interior nightmare for the Fighting Illini with a career-high 19 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.

And as Maryland gears up for this weekend's BB&T Classic at MCI Center, where it opens against Princeton on Sunday - the winner faces the Connecticut-George Washington winner in Monday night's championship game - Maryland coach Gary Williams is pondering some chemistry questions.

Should Wilcox replace Tahj Holden as the Terps' starting power forward? Or is having such a gifted player as Wilcox, who abused the Fighting Illini with his quickness and leaping ability, a luxury best served as a change of pace five minutes into the game?

Is the more experienced Holden the better choice to run with the first team early, since he has a better grasp of the Maryland offense and is a nasty defensive presence in the paint? Or is Wilcox, who has outscored Holden in four of Maryland's five games, inevitably going to trade roles with the 6-10 junior?

"We'll have to see," Williams said yesterday. "Chris has that quickness off the floor that very few players have. There were a lot of big guys out there for Illinois, and they were no match for him.

"If he plays 25 to 30 minutes, I don't think it makes any diffference [what Wilcox's role is]. As long as you get the minutes, I don't think it matters who starts. I think Chris and Tahj feel the same way about that. We'll see."

Through five games, Wilcox ranks third on the team in scoring (11.2 ppg), despite shooting a miserable 32 percent at the foul line. He also is third in rebounding (5.6), while averaging 22.4 minutes. Holden, who playfully directed reporters toward Wilcox's locker after the Illinois win, is seventh in scoring (4.6) and rebounding (3.6) and is averaging 24 minutes.

Wilcox started in the season-opening loss to Arizona but has come off the bench throughout Maryland's four-game winning streak. He followed his first career double double on Saturday against Delaware State with Tuesday's nationally-televised, knockout performance.

And he has left his coach to study some chemistry issues.

NOTES: In a tale of contrasting Novembers, the Terps have reversed last year's 1-3 record by finishing this season's first month with a 4-1 mark, and by beating Illinois, they won only the second nonconference battle between Top 5 teams in the history of Cole Field House. On December 28, 1974, the No. 5 Terps lost the other game to No. 3 UCLA, 81-75. ... Nicholas, who scored a season-high 12 points against Illinois by playing as a third guard for much of the night, played for 26 minutes, two shy of his career-high. ... Maryland dominated the inside by blocking 10 shots and outscoring Illinois in the paint, 46-28. ... Take away Dixon's 13-for-14 shooting, and the Terps have made only 50 of 104 free-throw attempts (48 percent). ... Maryland and Illinois are two of only three schools in the nation with football and men's basketball teams ranked in the top 10. Florida is the other school.

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