Terps keep positive outlook

College basketball

February 03, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- His team has lost three of its past four games, it's tilting toward a third straight appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, and yet Maryland coach Gary Williams still mustered some dry humor yesterday about the six quarts of milk and three loaves of bread he stocked up on at Giant for the winter storm that never came.

How is Williams, a man who abhors losing and often rages on the sideline, staying so composed?

"Because it's early," he said, "and I still think we can be a very good team this year.

"I've always felt that way, that you never eliminate yourself or you never think that you've got something made until it's mathematically certain," he said. "I've won eight games in a row before. I've lost five games in a row and made the Final Four. Everything is still there for us."

Including what should be the Terps' best shot at their first Atlantic Coast Conference road win of the season. At 8 tonight, Maryland (16-6, 2-5 ACC) faces Wake Forest, which is scraping the bottom of the ACC at 2-7. The Demon Deacons (10-11) proved they're not a pushover, though, with Tuesday night's 85-75 win against Georgia Tech.

While it's too early to say that the outcome of tonight's game will make or break the Terps' chances of returning to the NCAA tournament, Williams acknowledged there's a significant difference between leaving Winston-Salem, N.C., with a 3-5 record or a 2-6 record.

"Without a doubt," he said. "But you still have eight games to play."

Mathematically, Maryland remains in a position to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons. The Terps could win six of the final nine and finish 8-8 in the league, but even just four more wins would give them a 20-win season that included road victories over Michigan State, Illinois and St. John's.

History, though, has the odds against them.

Only four teams in ACC history have overcome 2-5 starts in conference play to reach the NCAA tournament, and only one - Maryland in 2003-04 - has done it in the past 20 years. The Terps finished 7-9 in the league that season, won the ACC title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We haven't talked about that, but I would think the guys who were here remember that," Williams said. " ... There's a lot of things still there for us. We just have to get some wins. That's the bottom line."

Maryland's fluctuating success this season has been a direct result of its puzzling inconsistency. On nights when the defense was there, like when it held Virginia Tech to 39.7 percent from the field, the Terps couldn't make the shots and lost in overtime. When they shot 63.3 percent from the field in the first half against Florida State, it was the defense that flopped.

"That drives you nuts," Williams said.

Defense and rebounding were emphasized at practices this week, Williams said. Maryland has been out-rebounded in six of its seven league games, the exception coming in a win over Clemson.

"I've always felt that defense and rebounding is a team commitment," he said. "It can't be one guy. We've had games where Ekene [Ibekwe] had, say, nine rebounds, James [Gist] had seven, but yet we were still outrebounded for the game. ... Sometimes a guard has to get five rebounds. Somebody has to come off the bench and get your five or six rebounds. That's what we need."

His players seem to have absorbed his mathematical mentality.

"Right now we're not too down on ourselves," senior guard Mike Jones said after the Florida State game. "We still have a chance. We've still got time to change things around and really try and push it for the last couple of games."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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