UM no stranger to S.C. coach

Ex-Wake boss Odom sees tough test in NIT semifinal

On roll, Terps rediscover press

March 29, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - With limited time to prepare his team for its National Invitation Tournament semifinal against Maryland tonight at Madison Square Garden, South Carolina coach Dave Odom put his memory in overdrive over the weekend.

Odom hasn't seen too much of the Terrapins this season, but as a coach who spent 12 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference guiding Wake Forest, he learned long ago about the cardinal rule for preparing for a Gary Williams-coached team.

"The one thing you know about Gary Williams' teams is they are always going to do what they do," said Odom, who is in his fourth year at South Carolina after coaching the Demon Deacons from 1989 to 2001. "They are not going to adjust to you. They are going to roll through the repertoire of offenses and defenses until they find something that is going to work that day. I don't think his style has changed, just the personnel."

Williams didn't dispute that assessment, but only now, four months after the season began, have the Terps fully embraced the style that past Maryland teams have ridden to postseason success.

In their three NIT victories, the Terps have relied heavily on their full-court press, which Williams had used sporadically since losing sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry to a season-ending knee injury in mid-January.

"I just think we finally bought into it," said Williams, speaking at a pre-NIT final four news conference at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. "Pressure, a lot of times, is just the reflection of your attitude about playing. If you are willing to press, that means that you are willing to work hard."

Maryland (19-12), which would clinch its ninth straight 20-win season with a victory tonight, is also moving the ball more on offense, often looking inside first - a staple of Williams' flex offense - and allowing big men like Travis Garrison, Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist to go to the basket or to kick the ball out to open shooters.

The statistic Williams insists best explains the Terps' improvement is that 11 players have scored in double digits the past two games.

"I like the way we are passing the ball," Williams said. "When you have five, six guys in double figures, it makes the other teams work really hard to play against you. It's been fun coaching the way we're playing right now."

Why has it taken this long? The pessimistic Terps fan will tell you Maryland simply outplayed inferior competition in Oral Roberts, Davidson and Texas Christian to reach the NIT semifinals.

The Terps' first three-game winning streak has coincided with junior point guard Sterling Ledbetter starting in place of the injured John Gilchrist, who is in New York with his teammates but likely won't play again this season because of wrist and ankle injuries.

Although he acknowledged that Ledbetter, more of a traditional pass-first point guard, gives the Terps' offense a different look, Ibekwe said the Terps are playing better more because of their mind-set.

"We feel a lot more confident, a lot looser," said Ibekwe. "We're just playing and not being afraid. That's the type of mentality we have to carry on next year. We can't think we are better than anybody else because then, we start to slack off and not really play."

The Gamecocks (18-13), an NCAA tournament team last season that went 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference this season, have beaten Kentucky and Miami and lost by fewer than five points to Kansas, Pittsburgh, Florida and this season's Terps nemesis, Clemson. To reach the semifinals, South Carolina beat Georgetown, 69-66, last week.

The Gamecocks play a style different from Odom's Wake Forest teams, which relied on a strong inside game from players like Tim Duncan. South Carolina is more up-tempo and perimeter-oriented; however, the Gamecocks' best player is 6-foot-7 forward Carlos Powell.

The All-SEC senior, who averages 16.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, was described by Williams as a "rare and great" player who can beat you with strength and quickness.

Powell, who said he has watched on television the Terps at their best (two wins over Duke) and worst (two of three losses to Clemson), was just as complimentary of Williams' team after watching game tape from Maryland's NIT victories.

"They have a different type of chemistry going right now," Powell said. "I don't know what it is going on, but I think their game has elevated a lot."

NOTE: Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson was in New Orleans on Sunday for a second interview for Tulane's vacant head coaching job, sources said. Dickerson is believed to be one of the front-runners for the position.

Tonight's game

NIT semifinal

Maryland (19-12) vs. South Carolina (18-13)

Time: 9:30 (approximate time; game will start 30 minutes after conclusion of Memphis-Saint Joseph's semifinal, which begins at 7 p.m.)

Site: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/Radio: ESPN2/1090 AM

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