Williams hoping Terps can regain edge after late-season inactivity

Maryland notebook

Tomorrow night's opener against UNC-Wilmington will be 4th game in 24 days

NCAA Tournament

March 20, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - By losing in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, the Maryland Terrapins paid a price by plummeting to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA's South Regional, after the Terps had entered the conference tournament with a chance to emerge as high as a No. 3 seed.

And by coming home early from Greensboro, N.C., instead of playing for two or three consecutive days, Maryland continued an unusually inactive period.

When the Terps tip off tomorrow night in Nashville, Tenn., against 11th-seeded UNC-Wilmington and formally begin defense of their NCAA championship, it will be only their fourth game in 24 days.

After concluding their home schedule by blowing out Clemson on Feb. 25, the Terps came from behind late in Raleigh to stun North Carolina State on March 2, then had an open week that each team in the nine-member ACC deals with during the regular season, before losing at Virginia on March 9.

The inactive period followed a stretch during which the Terps played four games in nine days. Maryland (19-9) has lost its past two games.

"It was weird at the end of the [regular season]. The biggest problem was during a week that late in the year, no [nonconference opponent] wants to play," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who said he would have liked to have scheduled a non-ACC opponent during the first week in March to break up the down time.

"I think we lost our edge a little bit, no doubt about it. But now, we have it back. I hope [the layoff] did some good," Williams added, alluding to the rested legs the Terps should have for the NCAA tournament.

"Things changed at about 6:30 on Sunday night. We lost to Virginia and North Carolina. Then at 6:30 on Sunday night, you look at the team and see a different body language. You see an excitement that might not have been there before. It's amazing what the NCAA tournament has become in the last 20 years, what it means now. That's where you want to be."

Taking it outside

The Terps have had problems sustaining their interior offense for a good portion of the season. That shortcoming came into sharp focus last week, when center Ryan Randle and forward Tahj Holden combined for only seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in the Carolina loss. Randle, who has averaged 6.7 points in his past three games, scored one point in 13 foul-marred minutes against the Tar Heels.

Maryland still ranked 10th in the NCAA at the end of the regular season with a scoring average of 80.8 points. Much of that can be traced to the Terps' proficiency from three-point range. Led by senior guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas, Maryland ranked seventh nationally with a three-point shooting percentage of 39.8.

It's not that the Terps are firing away that much more often than they did a year ago. The championship team averaged 16.1 three-pointers and 85 points and shot 37.4 from beyond the arc. This year's team is averaging 17.0 three-point attempts.

It helps that Blake (42.3) and Nicholas (41.1) finished first and third in the ACC in three-point efficiency, respectively. Nicholas always has been a sharp outside shooter, and he has used his starting role to increase his production. Blake has become a key scoring option after primarily feeding Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter for two years.

"Last year, we had a very strong inside game, and it helped us shoot the ball on the perimeter. This year, we have two very good shooters in Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake," Williams said.

Et cetera

Maryland is 32-18 all time in the NCAA tournament, and the Terps are 19-8 under Williams in their previous nine appearances. That includes a 10-1 mark in the past two years. ... Maryland is the only NCAA school to make it to the Elite Eight in each of the past two tournaments. ... Maryland, Arizona and Kentucky are the only schools to go to the past 10 NCAA tournaments and reach the Sweet 16 six times during that stretch.

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