Hit the boards, or hit road back to College Park

Acc Tournament

March 14, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

GREENSBORO, N.C. - University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams has given center Ryan Randle and forward Tahj Holden a lot of up-close-and-personal attention in practice this week.

How close?

Face to face. Nose to nose. They have felt the heat of his breath and apparently have gotten the message, expletives and all.

"Basically, we all know that our backcourt is going to get the job done every game," said Holden, a senior along with Randle. "They are going to be consistent in performance, numbers and effort. But the frontcourt is the key and will determine how far we go in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. We go as far as our frontcourt takes us."

As the No. 14 Terps (19-8) prepared to meet North Carolina (16-14) in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament tonight at the Greensboro Coliseum, Randle and Holden did a lot of soul-searching. Sometimes they liked what they saw, sometimes they didn't.

It's called inconsistency. A team can get away with it in the regular season, but not at tournament time. Inconsistency can get you a one-way ticket back to College Park after one game.

There are no more tomorrows as far as Holden and Randle are concerned.

"Ryan and I have talked a lot this week. This tournament is a statement game for us heading into the NCAAs," said Holden. "We know it's our time to step up. Lonny [Baxter] and Juan [Dixon] did that last year. When we play our game, we're as good as anybody in the country."

But what exactly is Holden's and Randle's game? On rare occasions, they have dominated. But, for the most part, they have just hitched a ride on the shoulders of guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas. Against Virginia Sunday, Holden and Randle were no-shows.

They got pushed, shoved and bumped around so much by the Cavaliers that they looked like they were in the front row. Cavaliers forward Travis Watson had 26 points and 15 rebounds. Center and teammate Jason Rogers had 12 points and six rebounds. The most telling story was that Virginia held a 59-36 advantage in rebounds, 23 on the offensive end compared with 25 on the defensive end for Maryland.

It's all about hustle and desire.

Despite their lack of success on the boards, Maryland still had a chance to win the game, but then came the ultimate indignity. With 3.7 seconds remaining in overtime, Blake heaved a shot from the corner that was short. Randle, with no one around him, tried to tap the ball in instead of bringing down the house as well as Virginia with the slam.

Maryland lost, 80-78, and Ryan, the youngster they call "Sleepy," looked goofy.

But that has been Maryland's problem most of the season. They are soft and need to have more of a presence inside. How about a few hard fouls? How about taking the ball to the rack? How about intensity, just letting big butts and elbows fly?

Randle played that way last season coming off the bench. Aggressive, at times even fearless. But this season, instead of challenging inside, he has gone to the soft baby hooks and fadeaway shots.

He thinks he is Elvin Hayes.

Holden has always thought he was a No. 2 guard in a 6-foot-10 body. It was nice to see him outside the key in previous seasons hitting long-range jumpers and allowing Baxter room to bang inside, but Baxter is gone. Holden needs to go inside now and trade blows. He needs to assist Randle inside, because if the big men don't become factors, Maryland will get eliminated by big, physical teams who have a guard who can get the ball inside.

The Terps have survived this season with an inconsistent inside game. Williams pointed out the Terps were second in the conference in rebounding before the Virginia game, and Holden and Randle have had some excellent moments this season.

Holden had a career-high 20 points and nine rebounds in a win against N.C. State on March 2 and 15 points, including going 8-for-9 from the foul line, against Wake Forest on Feb. 17. Randle had six double doubles this season, had double- digit rebounds in seven games and averaged 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds.

That shows you the talent is there, but Williams wants it there every game now. Even though Blake is struggling scoring (hope he doesn't struggle in the postseason like last year), Williams can count on him to deliver a solid floor game. Nicholas has disappeared late in about three games this season and you still get nervous with him on the foul line in the closing minutes, but he is still a pretty consistent scorer.

But with Holden and Randle, you want to see more of the unexpected than the norm. The Terps will have an advantage inside tonight against Carolina. The Terps are bigger than the Tar Heels, who have an advantage in quickness.

It's important for Holden and Randle to get into the game early. They need to erase the bad taste in their mouths left over from the Virginia game, and re-establish themselves inside. It's a point Williams has been trying to get across all week.

"I'm not trying to put pressure on my teammates, but at the maximum I have four weeks left in my college career," said Nicholas. "What is it to put 100 percent out on the floor for one more month out of the year?"

Holden said: "To get out-rebounded by almost 30 like we did last week, that's embarrassing. It was very disappointing for both of us. We've got to get into this game early in terms of scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, let the other team know it's going to be a long night. From here on out, we've got to come out and get it done every time."

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