Maryland vs.UNC-Wilmington

Ncaa Tournament

March 21, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht

Tonight's game

What: NCAA tournament South Regional first round

Site: Gaylord Entertainment Center, Nashville, Tenn.

Time: 9:55 approximately

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9 or ESPN2/WIYY (97.9 FM)

Line: Maryland by 8

The teams

Maryland: No. 6 seed, 19-9; finished tied for second in Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings; 20th NCAA tournament appearance, including 10th straight.

UNC-Wilmington: No. 11 seed, 24-6; won second straight Colonial Athletic Association title; fourth NCAA tournament appearance.

Backcourt

Maryland: Seniors Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas are the heart of the Terps. Blake, a first-team all-ACC selection, led the league in assists for the third straight season and was its best three-point shooter. Nicholas, a second-team all-ACC pick, is Maryland's leading scorer.

UNC-Wilmington: Senior Brett Blizzard, the CAA's Player of the Year for two straight seasons, led the conference in scoring (21.3 ppg) and shoots 44.7 percent from three-point range. The Seahawks will play without Tim Burnette (11.0 ppg), who was suspended indefinitely yesterday for violating unspecified team rules.

Edge: Maryland

Frontcourt

Maryland: The Terps are nowhere the force down low they were a year ago, but are due for a strong game. Senior 6-foot-9 center Ryan Randle has struggled badly of late, averaging just 6.7 points in his past three games. He is Maryland's leading rebounder (7.1). Senior 6-10 forward Tahj Holden has never been a great rebounder, and his shooting has been inconsistent for much of the year. He is shooting 33 percent during the Terps' two-game losing streak.

UNC-Wilmington: Senior 6-8 center Craig Callahan and 6-7 forward Anthony Terrell take scoring pressure off Blizzard. Callahan (16.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is an equal threat in the post and on the perimeter. Terrell (7.3 ppg) is shooting 60 percent.

Edge: Maryland

Bench

Maryland: Between their relative inactivity in the past four weeks and their five-man backup rotation, the Terps are well-rested with a good group of athletes. Freshman point guard John Gilchrist, senior guard Calvin McCall and junior center Jamar Smith can turn up the tempo and inject athleticism and quickness into the Terps' pressure defense. Smith could be a key if Randle struggles again.

UNC-Wilmington: Backup junior guard Joel Justus and freshmen reserve forwards Mitch Laue and Beckham Wyrick have been the Seahawks' steadiest backups, but only Wyrick averages more than 10 minutes a game.

Edge: Maryland

Coaches

Maryland: Gary Williams has guided the Terps to their 10th straight NCAA tournament, back-to-back Final Fours and last year's national championship. Williams, 19-8 in the tournament over 14 years at Maryland, also has been looking for career victory No. 501 for nearly three weeks.

UNC-Wilmington: Brad Brownell, who spent eight seasons as an assistant at UNC-Wilmington, is wrapping up a successful first year as a head coach, having taken the Seahawks to their second straight CAA title. Blizzard and Callahan notwithstanding, he lacks the weapons to match Williams and his experience.

Edge: Maryland

Keys to victory

Maryland: The Terps must commit to working the ball inside, play with the hunger that has been missing during a two-game losing streak and contain Blizzard, who is a 25-point show waiting to happen. The Terps also need to boost the confidence of Randle and Holden, attack the Seahawks aggressively on the wings and in the paint and open up more scoring opportunities with their pressure defense. Maryland's depth should be a deciding factor.

UNC-Wilmington: The Seahawks must protect the ball as well as they did during the regular season, when they committed the seventh-fewest turnovers in the NCAA, and get Blizzard and Callahan into the scoring early and often. If the Terps neutralize that pair with the defense of Blake, Nicholas, McCall and freshman forward Nik Caner-Medley, the Seahawks will hit too many scoring droughts to pull off an upset.

Bottom line

UNC-Wilmington is a great story with some history on its side. The Seahawks upset USC in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, and they have won nine straight games. But they are also 1-21 all-time against ranked teams. The bet here is that Maryland will show some pride and passion as defending national champion, use its defense, depth and backcourt experience to weather the rough spots, and win by at least 10 points.

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