Terps must unite on defense to ensure a chance

Maryland Vs. North Carolina

February 27, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams was hoping that early January afternoon in Chapel Hill would be an aberration.

After North Carolina repeatedly tore through the Terrapins' defense for a flurry of uncontested dunks and open three-pointers, scoring more points than any Maryland opponent in almost 15 seasons, Williams said it was too early to panic.

However, it's been more than a month and a half since that humbling 109-75 loss to the Tar Heels, who will be at Comcast Center for a rematch today, and the Terps coach is still seeing disturbing signs on the defensive end. In a four-point loss to Clemson on Tuesday, Maryland allowed the worst offensive team in the Atlantic Coast Conference coming in to shoot 58 percent from the field and score 97 points.

"It's been up and down," said Williams, whose team is 16-9 and 7-7 in the ACC and would likely cement an NCAA tournament bid with a win today. "Defense is one of those things that takes a long time to get good, but usually at this time of year, you're playing really good defense. I thought we were ... and then we score [93] points and lose an ACC game [to Clemson]. That's hard to do and we did it. If we play defense like that [today], we'll give up about 125."

Williams wasn't joking. The second-ranked Tar Heels (23-3, 11-2 and first place in the ACC) left their top scorer at home in Chapel Hill, but for what coach Roy Williams called the "most difficult road game for us this year," they bring probably the most talent of any team in the country to College Park.

Junior swingman Rashad McCants will miss his second straight game due to an intestinal disorder, leaving the Tar Heels still with four other players averaging double digits in scoring, led by Sean May. The junior center averages 15.5 points and is second in the conference with a 10.3 rebound-per-game average.

When the teams met Jan. 8, North Carolina got 41 bench points and had seven players in double figures. Williams said at the time that he expects other teams to have similar troubles with North Carolina, and he's been prophetic.

North Carolina, led by the top offense (89.9 points a game) in the conference, is outscoring teams by an average of 21.2 points a game. The Tar Heels lead the ACC in shooting (.506), three-point percentage (.408) and assists (20.3).

Meanwhile, the Terps are second to last in the ACC in defense, allowing 75.8 points a game. Last year, the Terps' perimeter and transition defense was maligned at times, yet they were holding teams to 72 points.

"It's something that drives you nuts," Williams said last week. "Defense should always be there. We played no defense the first 10 minutes of the [Clemson] game. It makes you shake your head and wonder what it takes for people to understand that you have to be prepared to go at it defensively every time out."

The Terps have clearly missed D.J. Strawberry, whose speed, long arms and aggressiveness made him one of the team's best defenders and an asset in the Terps' full-court pressure. Strawberry tore ligaments in his right knee in practice before a Jan. 19 game against Virginia and is out for the season.

But Williams thinks the Terps have been missing effort and intensity at times on defense more than they've missed any injured player. "It usually is not technique that makes you play bad defense," Williams said. "You have to get in the mind-set as a team that you're going to get every loose ball, get every rebound, fly around and deflect passes. That's where we have to be."

Maryland played great defense at times. It held Duke to 33 percent shooting at Cameron Indoor Stadium and then two weeks later at Comcast Center, the Terps limited the Blue Devils to a 40 percent effort in completing the season sweep. Then there was Tuesday's effort against Clemson and the two blowout losses to North Carolina State.

"We know the ACC is good, but you still have put it out there every night, and we haven't put it out there every night," acknowledged junior guard Chris McCray, the Terps' best defender.

After the second loss to Clemson, Terps point guard John Gilchrist suggested that outside factors - not the Terps' defense - have contributed to the team's inconsistencies. Maryland likely needs to win either today or at Virginia Tech on Saturday to clinch its 12th consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

Senior captain Mike Grinnon, who will be honored before today's game along with fellow senior Darien Henry in their last regular-season home game in College Park, said yesterday that Gilchrist's comments were taken out of perspective by the media.

Williams said he has discussed the comments with his point guard and he thinks that "John was speaking for John." The Terps coach thinks the team's inconsistency can at least be partially explained by Maryland's spotty defense.

"At times when we didn't play well, it has been our defense," Williams said. "It's always an indication of how well we're playing if we're playing good defense. We have to play better defense in order to win."

Today's game

Matchup: No. 2 North Carolina (23-3, 11-2) vs. Maryland (16-9, 7-7)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

Time: 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: UNC by 6 1/2

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