SALT LAKE CITY -- All-American Joe Smith was on the bench with four fouls. Maryland coach Gary Williams, just back from a bout with pneumonia, was on his knees with his team's 19-point lead down to seven.
"We got them to the mat," Gonzaga coach Dan Fitzgerald would say later. "But like any good team, they got it together. Boom! They turned it up and hurt us."
Even without Smith, the third-seeded Terps pushed the 11th-seeded 'Zags aside. By the time he returned, after more than 12 minutes on the bench and with a little over four minutes left, the lead was back to 19 and Maryland was on its way to an 87-63 victory.
It was the first time in his remarkable college career that Smith came in for what amounted to garbage time. Though Smith was held to single digits for the second time this year and only the third time in his career -- he finished with nine points and four rebounds, tying a season low -- Maryland got plenty of help elsewhere.
Junior guard Duane Simpkins led the Terps with 21 points, junior forward Exree Hipp scored 15 and junior guard Johnny Rhodes had 12 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Keith Booth added nine points and a career-high 15 rebounds and, in Smith's absence, freshman Rodney Elliott scored a career-high nine points in seven minutes.
"Everyone really stepped it up," said Rhodes, who along with Simpkins hit a couple of big threes to prevent Gonzaga (21-9) from getting any closer. "Maybe it was better that it happened for him [Smith] to get in foul trouble tonight than for it to happen in our next game."
Said Hipp: "You'll see a different Joe Smith in our next game."
The win was the Terps' 12th straight without a defeat in the opening round of the tournament, breaking a record they had shared with Ohio State, and put Maryland (25-7) into tomorrow's second-round game vs. 11th-seeded Texas. Despite their low seeding, the Longhorns were favored against sixth-seeded Oregon and beat the Ducks handily, 90-73.
While Smith was held in check, so was Gonzaga star John Rillie. The 6-foot-5 baldheaded guard, who hit 20 of 28 threes in leading his team to the West Coast Conference tournament championship and into the NCAA tournament for the first time, finished with 11 points on four of 14 shooting (three of 11 on threes).
"I kind of blame myself," said Rillie, who did hit a couple of threes in a 9-0 run that brought the 'Zags, however briefly, back into the game. "I feel like I practice those shots enough to hit more than I did."
Like Rillie's, last night's performance by Smith was totally out of character. Not only because of the low point and rebound total, but because of the way he picked up the fouls. After a quiet first half in which he scored seven points, but hit two shots in the last minute to give the Terps a 40-25 lead, Smith got into foul trouble quickly in the second half. He got both his third and fourth less than a minute apart by going over the back for rebounds.
"I'm pretty confident that's not going to happen with Joe too often because he's played with three fouls before in the ACC and kept banging away," said Williams. "He got caught on his fourth tonight, that's all."
Said Smith, who's been in foul trouble the past three games, "I don't want to get into foul trouble, but I have a lot of confidence in the rest of my teammates to do the job."
It was a collective effort. After Gonzaga first cut its deficit to seven, 51-44, with 13:27 to go and trailed 54-46 with 12:55 to go, Maryland went on a 21-8 run. It included three-point shots by Simpkins and Rhodes and a flurry of inside baskets and free throws by Elliott.
Though some questioned Williams' decision to put his star back for what amounted to mop-up duty, the fact that Smith had played only 20 minutes before returning certainly was a factor. It gave at least one fan reason to vent his frustration at Smith's performance.
"I paid 60 bucks for these tickets Joe, you better do something," yelled the fan.
Smith would respond by scoring his only basket of the second half.
Told what the fan said about wanting to see more from Smith, Williams smiled and said, "Me, too."
) Antonio McDyess, Ala.: 39
! McDyess, Ala.: 19
+ Townsend Orr, Minnesota: 12
! Orr, Minnesota: 5
* Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: 7
Manhattan ...... ..... 77
Oklahoma ....... ..... 67
Arizona State ........ 81
Ball State ........... 66
Kentucky ....... .... 113
Mount St. Mary's ..... 67
Tulane ........ ...... 76
Brigham Young ........ 70
Miami, Ohio ......... 71
Arizona ....... ..... 62
Virginia ...... ..... 96
Nicholls State ...... 72
Kansas ........ ..... 82
Colgate ....... ..... 68
W. Kentucky ......... 82
Michigan ...... ..... 76
Connecticut ......... 100
Tenn.-Chattanooga .... 71
Cincinnati ...... .... 77
Temple .......... .... 71
Oregon .......... .... 73
Texas ........... .... 90
Maryland ........ .... 87
Gonzaga ......... .... 63
TODAY'S TV GAMES
Syracuse vs. Southern Illinois, 12:25
North Carolina vs. Murray State, 2:45
Villanova vs. Xavier, 10:10