Teams are finding it difficult to put dent in Terps' armor

Defenses learn hard way that UM is real deal

Virginia still struggling

ACC notebook

February 22, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Trying to stop the Maryland offense must be akin to torture, since the Terrapins basically have an answer for everything.

All opposing defenses have to do is deny the ball to inside threats like rugged center Lonny Baxter and high-flying forward Chris Wilcox, then at the same time refuse to allow shooters like Juan Dixon, Byron Mouton and Drew Nicholas to get clear looks at the basket from the perimeter.

All opposing defenses need to do is keep point guard Steve Blake or backup Nicholas from penetrating and dishing off to open shooters on the wings, and keep Baxter, Wilcox and Mouton off the offensive glass. Oh, and don't let the Terps make the extra pass, even though no one in the Atlantic Coast Conference does it better, from Blake on down to the men in the low post.

Clemson attempted to fluster the Terps with zone defenses for much of the time on Wednesday. The strategy worked for a while, as the Tigers forced Maryland into some questionable shot selection, and got lucky as the Terps missed some open jumpers. But in the second half, Maryland started acting like Maryland, and Clemson never had a chance.

"We hadn't seen a zone in a while, and there's a tendency to rush shots against a zone," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, after Maryland scored 53 second-half points, shot 63.3 percent after halftime and turned a 35-31 halftime deficit into an 84-68 rout.

"We weren't patient in the first half. We got soft against their zone and just started firing threes, and we paid for it."

Nothing better explains why the Terps are averaging nearly 89 points against the ACC than this: In league play, Maryland is tops in three-point shooting percentage (.394), and the Terps have attempted fewer three-pointers (198) than anyone.

That is the sign of a disciplined team that plays to its strengths and sticks to a working philosophy. The Terps prefer to beat you up inside before burning you outside.

"It's just the way we've evolved this year," Williams said. "We'll shoot threes, but we don't look for them early. When we get away from that, we get in trouble. We go inside first. That's our strength. We get open looks [outside] because we go inside early and teams have to sag [on Baxter and Wilcox]. All of the sudden, Dixon, Nicholas, Blake and Mouton are open on the perimeter."

Virginia's struggles

The walls continue to close in on Virginia, which is plummeting in the rankings and being exposed as paper tigers that might be unworthy of an NCAA tournament invitation. Wednesday's 66-59 loss at Florida State is the latest chapter in a season gone sour.

The No. 22 and soon-to-be-unranked Cavaliers, who were No. 4 two months ago, don't have a reliable perimeter game, don't play much defense, can't win on the road, and basically consist of two strong players in guard Roger Mason, Jr. and center Travis Watson.

Granted, the loss of point guard Majestic Mapp to another season-ending knee injury last fall hurt. So did the midseason loss of small forward Adam Hall to a foot injury. Hall is one of the ACC's top athletes.

But the Cavaliers were a soft bunch a year ago with Hall in the lineup. He could not stop Virginia from fading badly late in the regular season, then making a first-round exit in the NCAAs.

Suddenly, Virginia (16-8, 6-7), which has lost six of its past eight games, is in danger of failing to reach the 20-victory mark and the .500 mark in the league. Suddenly, tomorrow's game against visiting, dangerous Georgia Tech is a must-win. After that, the Cavaliers play host to Duke, then come to Maryland to participate in the last game at Cole Field House.

If the Cavaliers don't win at least one more regular-season game, and barring a miraculous run in the ACC tournament, how does NIT sound?

"You've got to tell the truth. This is where we are. This is what we've got to do," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said.

Prosser high on ACC

Wake Forest first-year coach Skip Prosser, who on Sunday will pay his first visit to Cole Field House since bringing the Loyola Greyhounds there in 1994, has digested nearly a full year of ACC competition.

Prosser is here to tell you the league's top-flight reputation is well-deserved, even though only four teams might make the NCAAs, even though five teams could finish with losing conference records.

"The depth of the talent in the league is something I didn't expect," Prosser said. "I came from the Atlantic 10 [Xavier], which has some good talent. But there are a lot of very good players in this league. I look at [small forward] Dahntay Jones, who is the fifth option at Duke, and he was an all-Big East player."

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