Analyze this: Gilchrist earns save again

March 19, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

DENVER -- Texas-El Paso forward Omar Thomas had just made two free throws with about three minutes remaining in the game to give the Miners their first lead of the second half. The crowd smelled upset, and the Terps became tense.

And then Maryland point guard John Gilchrist took the ball and the rest was history. Final score: Maryland 86, UTEP 83.

Nearly one week after carrying Maryland to its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title since 1984, Gilchrist again pulled the Terps through crunch time in an opening-round NCAA tournament game at Pepsi Center.

One might figure that Gilchrist might be a little tired, or maybe out of miracles, but it's dangerous to count him out.

"Each night is going to be a scare," said Gilchrist, a sophomore who finished with 18 points. "This is the NCAA tournament. You come out with either a win or go home as a loser. The only way to get through this is one game at a time. We're at the point in the season where only the strong survive."

After UTEP went ahead 76-75 with 2:45 left in the game, Gilchrist hit a three-pointer with 2:34 remaining. With 2:08 left, Gilchrist, working at the top of the key, used a crossover dribble to slow guard Chris Craig, then blew past him for an easy layup as Craig fouled him.

Gilchrist pumped his fist at the crowd and pounded himself on the chest. He yelled and screamed at his teammates before converting the foul shot to give Maryland an 81-78 lead. The Terps made five of six free throws in the remaining time, but Gilchrist provided the spark.

"He is extremely intense," said Terps forward Nik Caner-Medley. "It's one of those things that's contagious. He got everybody going, and we definitely look for him down the stretch. We needed a surge."

If Maryland is to do well in this tournament, Gilchrist has to play well every game. The Terps had a couple of opportunities to put away UTEP, but couldn't. They got just enough from their starters and others in the regular rotation to win.

Center Jamar Smith had a presence in the middle in the first half, but wasn't much of a factor in the second. Ditto for starting forward Travis Garrison. Reserve forward Ekene Ibekwe had four crucial blocked shots, and backup guard D.J. Strawberry came off the bench for some quality defensive moments and some key offensive rebounds.

Caner-Medley? He converted a key three-point shot down the stretch, but Terps coach Gary Williams has to have him coming off the bench next season.

In the clutch, neither Garrison nor shooting guard Chris McCray wanted the ball. The only person calling for it was Gilchrist, who had watched his team score only one basket in the previous six minutes before his three-pointer.

Gilchrist got some encouragement to take over the game from Williams, who spends as much time analyzing Gilchrist as he does opponents. It's all part of their love-hate, head-game relationship.

"I was ticked off [at John] because he wasn't going the way John goes," Williams said. "John is really good when he goes quick. When he tries to play control, we don't need that. We need him to be aggressive. When he is, we're a pretty good offensive team. Just be John Gilchrist. Don't try to be anybody else."

In the second half, Gilchrist had three different players guarding him in Craig, Filiberto Rivera and Jason Williams. Late in the game, the Miners went to a triangle-and-two defense, but Gilchrist still finished with 7-for-14 shooting from the field, and five assists.

"Playing at this time of year is all about winning," Gilchrist said. "So many times I've watched many players, many point guards in the past, practice so hard, and then you put yourself in the situations all the time where the ball is in your hands.

"I was a little tired when they went to the triangle-and-two. But once they start going to junk defenses, it gives our other players opportunities to show their abilities because they are open."

The ball always comes back to Gilchrist. Because of his bulk (199 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame), he can take most opposing point guards in the low post. Because of a quick leap and extremely strong hands, he can rebound as well as most small forwards.

Yesterday, only Smith had more rebounds (eight compared with seven for Gilchrist), but no one played more than the 38 minutes Gilchrist was on the court.

Gilchrist said: "The way I would play myself is to play me honestly. I would stay in front of me. Guys get into trouble by trying to reach on me. Because of the bulk, I can take advantage of that."

Everything becomes a science for Gilchrist. Before coming to Denver, he was concerned about becoming dehydrated because of the altitude. He complained several times yesterday about a dry throat. He spent Wednesday night gulping down fluids, and had to rush off to the men's room during yesterday's game.

Another head game, according to Williams.

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