Terps' season may be all but over, but Gary Williams is making sure they have something to play for

March 06, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

One of the things I admire most about Gary Williams is this: He never throws his players under the bus.

All season, the Maryland coach has talked in a kind of code about the Terps — especially after games like Saturday's 74-60 loss to Virginia that doomed them to NIT hell.

We didn't play with enough emotion, he'll say. We didn't play with enough intensity. We can't get down by that much and expect to come back.

What he doesn't say about the Terps — and what just about everyone, including Williams, knows — is that they're not a very good team.

In a lot of ways, they've been lucky to win 18 games, which might be more of a testament to the coaching job Williams did this season than anything else.

They sure don't deserve to go to the NCAA tournament. And barring a miracle run at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this week, they'll end up in the National Invitation Tournament, which is like missing out on a trip to St. Barts for a weekend in the Poconos.

But if you're waiting for Williams to publicly rip his team, forget it. It'll never happen.

For one thing, the guy has been coaching for 100 years. And he understands no good can come of a coach taking shots at his players in the media.

But even more importantly, Williams understand that these are kids he's coaching.

I don't care if they're 20-year-olds or 21-year-olds or 22-year-olds. They're still kids. They're not pros.

They play this game because they love it. And because they get a free ride through college, which is a sweet deal unless you're a knucklehead and you blow it.

So now the Terps go down to Greensboro, N.C., to play in the ACC tournament and try to win a couple of games to salvage some of their pride and shore up their battered confidence.

Williams, of course, talks bravely about winning more than a couple of games.

"I know no one has ever won four games down there since expansion," he said after the Virginia game, "but at the same time, we're going to go down there and try to win this thing."

What else is he going to say?

Is he going to say: "Look, we've got no shot — we're only going down there for the barbecue"?

No. So now he does what he always does: He puts this loss behind him. And he tries to get his team ready for the next game.

The sad thing is that the Terps regressed so much late in the season that they don't even have a puncher's chance of winning the tournament.

No, this team has too many issues to get on some hot streak that shocks the basketball world.

No. 1, the Terps are too undersized, something that killed them all season. Watching them get crushed on the boards in that 87-76 loss to far-taller North Carolina was actually painful. But even the Cavaliers out-rebounded them (32-29.)

No. 2, they still lack consistent scoring from the outside. All year, Williams has waited for someone to step up and start consistently sticking 3-pointers or demand to take the big shots at crunch time. And guess what? He's still waiting.

And No. 3, they didn't get the type of season they expected from three of their key players.

A couple of their seniors, Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie, never seemed to find their rhythm. And junior Sean Mosley is lost in the wilderness.

Mosley, the kid from St. Frances, plays hard and hits the boards. But offensively, he's a mess. For whatever reason, he has zero confidence in his shot.

No wonder he played only 13 minutes against he Cavaliers. And failed to score.

Yes, it's been a miserable three-game stretch: the losses at North Carolina and Miami and the one to Virginia at Comcast Center. The players seem demoralized. The fans are dispirited.

There were so many fans leaving Saturday with the Terps trailing by only seven with 2:49 left, you'd have thought the building was on fire.

Williams gave the team the day off Sunday, which was a smart move given their death-march body language after the Cavaliers beat them.

But he warned that they'd be working the next day.

"Monday's practice will be interesting in terms of finding the right guys to represent us in the ACC tournament," he said.

Translation: The starting lineup is up for grabs. Playing time is up for grabs.

The door is closing, but the season isn't over yet.

And playing just for pride is better than not playing at all.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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