Williams stresses defense, heart

Strawberry leads charge as Terps tackle their top '04 weakness

College Basketball


COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach Gary Williams pounded his heart with his right fist last week, indicating where he believes defense comes from.

It is, he said, a "pride thing," and junior guard D.J. Strawberry definitely has it.

Williams is just waiting for it to become contagious.

"It's a team attitude where you want to stop people," he said. "You can teach fundamentals of defense, stance, getting away and toward a ball, but if you don't want to play defense, you can have all the fundamentals you want. Defense is right here. It's in the heart."

Following last week's win over St. Francis Xavier of Canada in the Terps' first exhibition game of the season, Maryland made defense a priority. The Terps finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring defense last year, allowing opponents an average of 76 points per game.

They'll find out what kind of strides they made in tonight's 8 o'clock exhibition game against visiting Virginia Union, a team that won the Division II national championship last season.

"We didn't play good defense [Wednesday]," Williams said. "We're only as good as our last practice."

Tonight's game is the final exhibition before the season officially begins next Friday night against visiting Fairleigh Dickinson.

Strawberry has been regarded as the team's top defensive player but missed the final 18 games of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"He was like the head of our defense last year, " senior Travis Garrison said. "When we lost him, we lost a big piece to our puzzle. ... Having him back is a big plus for us this year. It's like he never even had the surgery. He's running fast, getting steals like he usually does, leading the break and playing really good defense."

Senior Nik Caner-Medley said many of the players on the team are natural scorers, something that came easily after high school. Defense was something the team has had to really focus on.

"I don't think there's any question this team is capable of playing well defensively," he said. "It just comes down to understanding how important it is and paying attention to every possession.

Strawberry, who had a team-high six steals on Saturday, said the Terps got a little "lackadaisical" last year on the defensive end.

"We know we can score with anybody, so we knew we were going to go back and get the same amount of points they got," he said. "But it was a matter of fact that we couldn't stop them down the stretch. That's one of the important factors we need to do this year.

"This year I'm looking forward to bringing that energy back," he said, "bringing that attitude back where we're just going to stop people on the defensive end."

Notes -- Maryland received national letters of intent from two more players yesterday, completing the four-member recruiting class of 2006. Greivis Vasquez, a 6-foot-5 guard from Montrose Christian in Rockville, and Landon Milbourne, a 6-6 small forward from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, both made their commitments official. "We've recruited them a long time," Williams said. " ... They're players. Basketball is a big priority in their lives, which I really like."


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