There are two questions to be answered by the University of Maryland basketball team this season: Will the Terrapins finish at .500 or better, and will Walt Williams play again this season?
Maryland (13-11) could take a significant step toward accomplishing the first when it plays Virginia Tech (10-13) in Blacksburg, Va., tonight. A victory would ensure a .500 season for the Terps, who have three Atlantic Coast Conference games remaining.
Williams doesn't appear ready to play his first game since suffering a fractured left fibula Jan. 12 against Duke. "He still doesn't have that first step," trainer Bill Saylor said Saturday.
Maryland coach Gary Williams said that, after watching Walt Williams shoot Sunday, he still appears to be favoring the leg.
Walt Williams practiced briefly with the team last night, but Gary Williams said he doesn't want to rush the junior point guard and the team's leading scorer back into the lineup.
"You don't want him to play and worry where his feet end up," Gary Williams said. "That's when you hurt something else."
Maryland, 5-5 without Williams, lost Saturday, 87-75, to sixth-ranked North Carolina at Cole Field House. The Terps gave the Tar Heels a game for 25 minutes and made a late run after falling behind by 18.
"I thought we played a great first half," said Gary Williams. "And I liked the way we hung around at the end and never let them blow us out."
What pleased the coach as much, if not more, was the play of Kevin McLinton. The sophomore point guard from Silver Spring scored a career-high 21 points, hitting nine of 12 shots from the field.
"Kevin was really tough on the ball," Gary Williams said. "I think that game [against North Carolina] was very important for his development."
Tonight could be crucial for Maryland. If the Terps can beat the Hokies and win one of their remaining ACC games, Maryland could finish over .500. It would be a remarkable feat for a team many picked to win only 10 games.
But it's not going to be easy. Virginia Tech is a tough team to figure out. The Hokies have struggled against some weaker teams -- they lost by 30 at Tulane -- and have beaten some good teams. They are coming off back-to-back victories at home over Louisville and Cincinnati.
"They are a pretty good team, and they go about 10 deep," said Gary Williams. "They lost a few games early, but they're starting to play well."