Player rotation has UM looking well-rounded

Terps: Solid play off the bench has Maryland in position to earn a share of another Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.

College Basketball

March 06, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Earlier this season, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams figured he had enough experience and talent to make another run at the Atlantic Coast Conference title. What he didn't know was how many players would emerge to expand and solidify the Terps' player rotation - how deep the defending NCAA champions would be.

The Terps (19-7, 11-4 ACC) are sitting in a pretty good position as they await their regular-season finale at Virginia on Sunday.

With a victory, Maryland would clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament and keep itself in line for a possible No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Should first-place Wake Forest lose at North Carolina State on Saturday, a Maryland victory over Virginia would give the Terps a share of their second straight regular-season league crown.

And with the postseason soon upon them, the Terps like their legs, since they have a lot of them. Led by freshman point guard John Gilchrist, senior guard Calvin McCall and junior forward/center Jamar Smith, Maryland's bench has brought notable pain to its opponents lately.

Consider that, during its three-game winning streak, Maryland's reserves have outscored their counterparts by a whopping 91-34 count.

"The deeper teams are the ones that are going to last. Deep teams is definitely where it's at," Gilchrist said. "My duty is don't hold back, bring positive energy, change the tempo. We present a lot of one-on-one type things that can speed the game up."

Gilchrist, who averages 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds, has altered game tempo as few Terps have this year. Take his effort on Sunday, in Maryland's dramatic, come-from-behind, 68-65 victory at North Carolina State, where senior guard Drew Nicholas made a game-winning, three-point shot with 1.5 seconds left.

It was Gilchrist, with significant help from the fast-improving Smith, who energized Maryland after it had fallen behind early in the second half by 10 points. With Steve Blake on the bench in a scoring funk, Gilchrist's diving steal and pass to Nicholas for a layup preceded a slam by Smith, which was followed by a layup by Gilchrist, cutting the Wolfpack's lead to 47-45.

Gilchrist and Smith - the Allegany College transfer and the Terps' premier leaper - were in the middle of Maryland's final comeback, during which it erased a 58-47 lead with a game-ending 21-7 run. Gilchrist harassed point guard Clifford Brown on defense, was a step faster than tiring N.C. State in transition and hit the boards with authority. His put-back gave Maryland a 67-65 lead before Nicholas' heroics.

"John is a catalyst," Williams said. "You don't always know what's going to happen [when he's on the floor], but something is going to happen, and that's good. You get into parts during games where you get flat. He doesn't allow us to stay there."

Smith, 6 feet 9, has long emerged from Williams' early season doghouse and has passed freshman forward Travis Garrison in the frontcourt rotation development. Smith's quickness and above-the-rim leaping ability have presented quite a matchup problem of late.

"The thing with Jamar is he's always been talented. It just took him awhile to understand what we're doing. He's really played well the last few weeks," said Williams, who compared Smith's development with that of current starting center Ryan Randle, Smith's former Allegany teammate who is in his second and final season in College Park.

Smith is averaging 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. In his past three games, he has averaged 9.3 points.

McCall (5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) has become the player most closely associated with Byron Mouton from last year's team, even though he does not have Mouton's scoring ability.

McCall, who has started 12 of 24 games, has averaged 18.3 minutes and is currently supporting freshman Nik Caner-Medley off the bench, probably leads Maryland in what Williams calls the "hustle plays." Often, as he did in Raleigh on Sunday, McCall is the guy keeping more loose balls and offensive rebounds alive than anyone else.

Throw in freshman guard Chris McCray and sophomore guard Andre Collins, who have enjoyed some highlight moments during Maryland's stretch run, and Williams thinks he has the makings of a formidable squad of 10 or 11.

"We're a different team this year. We have to use a lot of players," Williams said. "If you keep the pace of the game where you need it to be, that's an advantage. We need our depth."

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