COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- It's fitting that rebounding will be the focus for Maryland going into tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference game against Wake Forest at Cole Field House.
The Terrapins are looking to rebound -- literally and figuratively. Hitting the boards has just been part of the problem in Maryland's poor start in the ACC this season, but it's one coach Gary Williams hopes his team can rectify quickly.
"Rebounding is something we have to get better at," Williams said before practice yesterday. "One of the things Wake has done well is rebound. We haven't. We have room for improvement in our rebounding. But there's a limitation physically."
Maryland (8-4, 0-3) is next-to-last in the ACC in rebounding with a 37.3 average. Wake Forest (8-3, 0-2) ranks first with 49.5. But that hasn't prevented the Demon Deacons from losing their first two ACC games.
Still, the Terps will have to improve other aspects of their game -- raising their level of intensity at both ends of the floor, improving their shot selection and hitting a higher percentage of shots.
Quite simply, Maryland won't be able to beat Wake Forest if it doesn't box out.
"Wake Forest is a great rebounding team," senior forward Evers Burns said. "It's not going to be an easy test."
Asked about the challenge of stopping ACC first-teamer Rodney Rogers -- a player Williams called "the best small forward in the country" -- Burns said, "I'm kind of looking forward to it. He's a great player. But it's more of a team thing. We're going to have to stop Rogers and [Randolph] Childress and the rest of their team."
In retrospect, tonight's game represents a more realistic test for Maryland. After losing to three teams that have been in or are in the top 10 -- No. 5 North Carolina, No. 8 Georgia Tech and Florida State, which last week dropped out of the top 25 for the first time this season -- the Terps will be facing a team picked to finish anywhere from third to sixth in the ACC.
Both teams are looking to restore respectability after blowout losses. After scoring the first 12 points Wednesday night, Maryland lost to the Seminoles, 105-85, in Tallahassee, Fla. After playing the Blue Devils even in the first half, Wake Forest lost, 86-59.
"Our conference schedule the first three games was the toughest of anybody in the ACC," Williams said. "I don't like it, but you have to keep things in perspective. We had confidence going into the conference after beating Louisville. You lose some of that playing against the teams we've played. It might say we're not a top 25 team, but I think we're a top 50 team."
Maryland is going through the same kind of stretch that it did last year, when the Terps lost their first six ACC games during an eight-game losing streak. But the Terps' first victory (over Clemson) gave them a second wind to the season, and they ended up winning five of their last 10 league games.
There was a feeling at practice yesterday that tonight could be a breakthrough.
"If you remember last year, once we won our first ACC game, we played a lot better," said senior guard Kevin McLinton, who is coming off a career-high 28-point performance against Florida State. "We just have to go out there and play hard."
* NOTE: Maryland ticket manager Jack Zane said there are "a limited" number of tickets remaining for tonight's game.