Garrison: still a soft touch outside, but tougher inside

Terps forward improves rebounding and defense, rounding out his game

College Basketball

March 17, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams always appreciated the commodity that Travis Garrison brought to the court.

You don't easily find thickly built, 6-foot-8 forwards with the ability to shoot the ball from the outside. That is what drew Division I recruiters to DeMatha High School, where Williams remembers watching Garrison fill it up as a sophomore, en route to becoming a McDonald's All-American as a senior.

Getting Garrison to do more - and want to do more - than step out and let the jump shot fly has made for an interesting tug-of-war between coach and player. Judging by the way Garrison's overall game has prospered in recent weeks, and by the way he earned a special place at last weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, it looks as if the player is listening.

Garrison's up-and-down season, which reflects his up-and-down career in College Park, is on the upswing.

During the three-day run of upsets over the top three seeds that lifted No. 6 seed Maryland to its first ACC tournament title since 1984, culminating in Sunday's overtime victory over Duke in the final, Garrison did not make as much noise as Most Valuable Player point guard John Gilchrist or senior center Jamar Smith.

But Garrison did more than enough damage. Two days after the first double double of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a quarterfinal win over Wake Forest, Garrison burned Duke for a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds while fighting fatigue and a sore back. His three-day total of 39 points and 19 rebounds landed him on the all-tournament second team.

"Travis really is doing what we knew he could do all along. He has a strong basketball background. He understands the game," Gilchrist said. "Players have to find their niche on the team. He had to find what's his shot, when to do what. He had to find his role. Now that he's comfortable and confident, he's playing his best basketball so far."

It's been a long, steady climb for the 236-pound Garrison. He took over a starting role early in his freshman season, only to lose it after an ineffective six-game stretch. He began this season as a starter, lost that job to freshman Ekene Ibekwe for seven games, then got it back for good. Foul trouble or erratic shooting or both seemed to get the best of him in every other game.

Along the way, Garrison has defined himself as a skilled shot-blocker with a sweet shot in spots. Remember that 18-footer he swished after going scoreless all night to beat then-No. 1 Florida in overtime on Dec. 10?

But there was something about the way Garrison reluctantly used his strong frame inside that bugged Williams, who pleaded for more rebounds and defensive presence and power moves from his power forward. Play tougher. Be aggressive.

"I was thinking about a lot of things. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself at the beginning of the season. I really had no room for mistakes. But as a basketball player, you can't be perfect," Garrison said.

"One of my strong points is shooting the jumper. Me and Coach talked about it, and he wanted to stay with that, but also to take it inside, mix it up a little bit. He kept telling me how good I can be and that I was getting better. I have a lot more confidence than I did a month ago. I feel more comfortable on the court, and I'm just out there having fun."

Garrison has become a more dependable rebounder and less of a defensive liability. He ranks second on the team (5.0) in rebounding, and hit double digits three times in ACC play this year. He ranks third on the team in blocked shots (33) and fifth in scoring (7.6). He is spreading his fouls out more judiciously and going to the basket with more authority.

Garrison was a combined 11-for-16 at the foul line in the ACC tournament, the latest evidence of his effort to drive to the rim. He also hit three three-pointers against Duke. That negated a four-point, two-rebound showing in the tournament semifinals against N.C. State.

"It's been up and down for Travis. He's had some great games, and he's had some games where he wasn't really a factor. We don't win the ACC tournament without Travis Garrison doing what he did," Williams said.

"He's always been a great shooter, but shooting the ball is one thing. Being aggressive, playing defense, staying out of foul trouble, all of those things are very important. And he's getting better at those things."

Said Garrison: "I'm still learning and finding out things I need to work on. I don't think I'm even close to what I can be."

NOTES: Freshman guard D.J. Strawberry, Maryland's sixth man, was expected to practice yesterday, although he is questionable for the UTEP game with a sprained right ankle he aggravated in Sunday's ACC tournament final against Duke. Strawberry played only 16 minutes and did not score against the Blue Devils. ... The last No. 6 seed to win the ACC tournament was Georgia Tech in 1993. The Yellow Jackets were awarded the No. 4 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament, then lost to No. 13 seed Southern in the first round, 93-78.

Next for Terps

NCAA tournament first round: Maryland (19-11) vs. Texas-El Paso (24-7) in Phoenix Regional

Site: Pepsi Center, Denver

When: Tomorrow, 12:40 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/ WBAL (1090 AM)

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