Short memory key to Terps' win, but long road still ahead

February 05, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — — Gary Williams strode into his post-game news conference Saturday wearing his usual expression, that of a man who'd just had to put his dog down.

Moments earlier, Maryland had rebounded from Wednesday's 18-point loss to Duke with a 91-70 thrashing of Wake Forest at Comcast Center.

Williams wasn't exactly celebrating this one, though. Wake, after all, is a terrible team (8-15, 1-6 in the ACC), one of the worst conference teams in recent memory. No wonder Demon Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik, who coached at UMBC in the '80s, looks so much older. This team would have a 30-year-old coach reaching for the Grecian Formula.

But as bad as Bzdelik felt, that's how relieved Williams was to see the Terps bounce back from that demoralizing loss to the Blue Devils, their worst loss ever at Comcast Center and one that could have affected them for days.

Now Williams was asked what he had emphasized in practice to his team after the Duke loss.

And the short answer was this: The Duke game never happened.

"Thursday was 'Forget Wednesday, Williams said, "and I'm really serious because too many people put too much on one game, especially the buildup that's always there for the Duke game. You have to get your players through that.

" Because everyone walks around on campus, if you lose, hearing about it. Like, 'You didn't play well, they really put it to you.' That gets old quick. So we talked about putting that game behind us and not letting it cost us a game. I thought the players did a great job in that situation."

If you're a Maryland fan, wins like this one over Wake are the ones you have to savor. Because the fact is that the Terps can't match up consistently against big, strong teams like Duke, not with their lack of depth up front and their lack of consistent scoring from the outside.

They beat Wake because they were able to get their transition game going. No team looks uglier than the Terps when they're forced into a half-court game and not hitting their jump shots.

Against Wake, though, they got 27 points and 15 rebounds from their big man, sophomore Jordan Williams, who looked terrific running the court in his best game of the season.

They got 13 points and six assists from senior guard Adrian Bowie. And they got much-needed energy out of the gate from freshman guard Pe'Shon Howard, who scored nine points and dished out eight assists on some of the most electrifying passes Maryland fans have seen this season.

"But we have to be good enough to win those games when we can't get that [transition game] going," Gary Williams said. "And right now, they just aren't.

The fact is, too, that even with this win over Wake, the Terps remain very much on the bubble for getting into the NCAA tournament in March.

They still don't have a signature win over a tough opponent this season — a win over Duke was supposed to take care of that.

And with the ACC perceived as a much weaker conference than usual this season, there's no telling how many conference teams will be selected for the Big Dance. A 15-8 Maryland team (5-4 in the conference) isn't dazzling any of the selectors right now, that's for sure.

But that's not from any lack of effort by Gary Williams, who looked drained after Saturday's win and said that getting a team to bounce back after a tough loss is about the hardest thing a coach has to do.

Still, the day was not without some personal satisfaction for the Terps coach. That's because the win over Wake was also his 664th in 33 seasons, tying him with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden on the all-time wins list.

When Williams was asked about being compared to Wooden, he shook his head softly.

"That sounds funny," he said, the stone face almost breaking into a grin. "I think he coached 27-28 years [actually 29]. So he had a few more wins than me. But in his era, he was so dominant. And back then, [UCLA] was this West Coast team that you never saw play, because the games weren't on television.

" . . . [But] if you look at John Wooden, what he did was glamorize the game, in addition to all those championships. He glamorized college basketball. It didn't become a thing you did in winter because you couldn't go outside. It became attractive for everyone to play."

As his news conference wound down, he was asked if, back in 1978, when he began his college coaching career, he ever thought he'd one day break Wooden's wins record.

"No. No way," he said quickly. "In 1967, 1968, I was really going to be a high school coach. I was really looking forward to that as a career. Because I love coaching, and that's pure in high school."

College coaching might not be as pure, but it's sure a lot more lucrative.

And stressful.

Especially on days like this.

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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