Is third time a charm for Terps at Maui Invitational?

Gary Williams hopes Terps leave Maui with their first championship

November 23, 2009|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

Mark Twain once wrote, "I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I have not once thought of business or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness."

In his three previous trips to the Maui Invitational, Gary Williams certainly has thought of all those things. Sometimes in the same day.

This time, the Maryland coach is looking for a different outcome: three straight victories and a championship in one of college basketball's marquee early-season events.

Not that Williams is going to stay five weeks - he will barely be there five days - but he is hoping this is not another case of paradise lost for his Terps.

"You're over in Maui, that's great, but three games in three days is a very difficult thing to do," said Williams, whose 3-0 Terps open against host Chaminade tonight. "All their energy is directed to that."

Williams said he won't change his team's routine in Hawaii despite the obvious attractions and scenery. Needless to say, the Terps won't be parasailing or getting up to see the sunrise in Hana.

"We run a pretty tight ship over there. We go over there to win games. We don't go over there for a vacation," Williams said.

Maryland has never won the Maui Invitational, playing for the championship once, in 1994.

That year, a team ranked seventh nationally and led by sophomore Joe Smith opened its season by beating Chaminade, defeated Utah and Keith Van Horn in a shootout, but lost the championship game to Arizona State.

In 2000, No. 6 Maryland beat Louisville in the opening round but lost to Illinois and Dayton. In 2005, the No. 23 Terps lost to No. 8 Gonzaga in the opening round and were relegated to the consolation bracket but salvaged some pride with wins over Chaminade and Arkansas.

The benefits of playing in the bandbox Lahaina Civic Center are obvious.

"It's been unbelievable competition," Williams said. "Nationwide TV, great publicity for the university and the basketball program. Nowadays, because of everything that goes up on all those Web sites, it's very important that you're one of those teams that is being talked about this time of year."

Ranked No. 25 in the country after starting the season just out of the Top 25, the Terps are still on the periphery in terms of national attention, mainly because they have yet to play anyone of prominence.

Maryland took care of Charleston Southern, Fairfield and New Hampshire, and Tuesday's game against either Cincinnati or Vanderbilt will be Maryland's first against a team from a power conference.

"We're a work in progress. We're getting to be a good basketball team," Williams said after the Terps dominated New Hampshire from the start Friday en route to an 84-55 win in College Park. "As people get healthy, I think we have a chance to be good. There's still a lot of work to be done."

Asked whether the team is where he wants it to be heading out to Hawaii, Williams said: "I don't judge the margins [of victory]. I just try to get us to play at a certain level. When you're functioning on all cylinders and you're a good team, you're usually doing a lot of the right things."

Said senior guard Eric Hayes: "We always want to work on everything. Once we get there, we have three tough games. We just want to keep playing the way we're playing on the defensive end and improving on offensive execution."

While most of his players might not be aware of Chaminade's famous moment in college basketball lore, when the Division II Silverswords beat Ralph Sampson and Virginia in a 1982 game in Honolulu that led to the birth of the Maui Invitational, Williams certainly will remind them.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it was reported that this was Maryland's third trip to the Maui Invitational. It is the fourth. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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