The Maryland basketball team has teased its fans — and its coach — many times this season.
The Terps have often followed promising performances, such as Saturday's 83-71 win over Florida State at Comcast Center, with perplexing ones. More often than not, the games after some of its better wins have been among the worst for Mark Turgeon's team.
Will Maryland (14-10 overall, 6-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) change its pattern Monday night here at John Paul Jones Arena against No. 20 Virginia (19-5, 10-1)? Given the way the Cavaliers have played the past five weeks, winning seven straight by an average of 13.4 points, it seems highly unlikely.
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"They are just playing at an unbelievably high level," Turgeon said in a conference call Sunday night. "They're so good on the defensive end, and they're so unselfish on the offensive end. It's tough in that building. They're really starting to play well now."
Still, Turgeon thinks his Terps have progressed despite a disappointing performance last week at North Carolina. The 12-point loss to the Tar Heels came less than a week after Maryland's 74-71 win over Miami at home in a game in which the Terps nearly lost a 10-point lead in the final 1:45 before winning on a 3-point shot by junior Dez Wells.
"We're getting better, that's really what matters," Turgeon said. "We're becoming a better basketball team. More sound. Are we where we need to be? No, but hopefully we can improve between now and 9 o'clock tomorrow night and play better than we did Saturday."
In what will be their toughest but also potentially most opportunistic stretch of what has been a largely disappointing season, the erratic Terps will try to see if they can finally back up a quality win with what would easily be their biggest victory this season.
The game against Virginia, which was moved Friday from ESPN's 7 p.m. "Big Monday" showcase game to 9 p.m. on ESPNU to accommodate the local traffic surrounding President Barack Obama's visit to Monticello, will be the first of three games against nationally-ranked teams in the next 15 days.
"It's hard [to build momentum] because we have a tough schedule coming up," sophomore point guard Seth Allen said Saturday, after scoring a career-high 32 points and helping to avenge last month's 24-point defeat to the Seminoles in Tallahassee, Fla.
"At Virginia, at Duke [Saturday], here [against[ Wake Forest and then here [against] Syracuse. We're not going to dwell on this because we play on Monday, we have to build on this and keep building defensively from this win."
Terps sophomore forward Jake Layman said: "We have a stretch of a lot of great teams, but we have a big opportunity to get some quality wins. Defense is going to be huge. When we've struggled, it's usually been at that end of the floor."
Turgeon has said that defense and rebounding will help the Terps get through nights when their shots are not falling. Though Maryland has shot well recently — a shade under 50 percent over the past five games — Virginia ranks second in the ACC in fewest points allowed (55.6).
"They're so good defensively, it's hard to get a good shot up quickly," Turgeon said. "I think this is the best defensive team we'll play. Pittsburgh's really good, but they don't have the depth Virginia has. It will really challenge us."
Since both teams are coming off a short turnaround — the Cavaliers won Saturday at Georgia Tech, 64-45, with a game-closing 22-1 run — Turgeon said: "It's more, we're going to do what we do, they're going to do what they do."
Maryland has some tough memories of its first two trips to Virginia under Turgeon.
Two years ago, the Terps watched a close game in the first half turn into a second-half blowout for the Cavaliers that resulted in a 71-44 defeat, which remains the most one-sided loss in Turgeon's first three seasons in College Park.
And last year, needing a win in the regular season finale to stay in the discussion for a possible NCAA tournament bid, the Terps built a 17-point lead in the first half, only to relinquish it in the second half and lose in overtime.
"We should have that one, that's in the back of our minds, too," Layman said Saturday. "We know their crowd's going to be fired up because we're going in there for the last time."
Along with trying to get their first road win against a ranked team since Turgeon took over, the Terps are hoping to silence the crowd and not allow the fans to razz Maryland with the "ACC" chant as those at other schools have done this season in road losses.
"We don't want to hear that chant again," Layman said.
* Started 2-0 in ACC for first time since 2002-03, with wins at Boston College (88-80) and vs. Georgia Tech (76-61) at home, then lost by a combined 45 points at Pittsburgh (79-59) and Florida State (85-61)
* Won at Virginia Tech (80-60), then lost at North Carolina (75-63) after falling behind, 19-3, at the start of the game and later cutting the deficit to three points