SALT LAKE CITY -- Call it Gary and Joe's Great NCAA Tournament Adventure. It's heading farther west to Oakland, Calif., for Thursday's West Regional semifinal against Connecticut.
The return of Maryland coach Gary Williams to the sidelines here at the Huntsman Center, and the return of sophomore center Joe Smith to All-America form proved to be a rousing, if not routine, success for the third-seeded, 10th-ranked Terrapins.
With Saturday night's 82-68 victory over Texas, Williams is now 2-0 since coming back from a bout with pneumonia. And with 31 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots against the 11th-seeded Longhorns, Smith returned from a bout with mortality.
"The thing that's amazing about Joe is the way he comes back after having a sub-par game," Williams said of Smith, who scored nine points and pulled down only four rebounds in 24 foul-plagued minutes in Thursday night's 87-63 victory over 14th-seeded Gonzaga. "He really goes after it."
Smith was active from the start, getting Texas center Rich McIver into quick foul trouble and then having his way with a steady stream of big men the Longhorns threw at him. Smith came within a missed dunk of breaking Len Bias' 1986 single-game scoring record for a Maryland player in the NCAA tournament, tying it with 31. As it was, he broke school records for rebounds and blocks in an NCAA tourney game.
The 6-foot-10 center was even smiling again, which has been as much a trademark of his Maryland career as his quickness, work ethic and silky moves.
Asked what the records mean, Smith said: "It means a lot. Whenever I finish my career, it means that my name will be in the [record] books for a long time."
Maryland needed nearly all of Smith's rebounds and blocks, if not his points, to hold off Texas (23-7). The Longhorns kept chipping away at four separate nine-point leads by the Terps before finally taking a one-point edge themselves.
But just as quickly as it came, it was gone again, Keith Booth going end to end to put Maryland back in the lead. After the game was tied twice, Maryland pulled away and broke it open down the stretch. Texas was helpful, missing its last four free throws and five of its last six. The Longhorns shot a season-low 35.3 percent against the Terps, as Exree Hipp locked up Terrence Rencher and Roderick Anderson jacked up 19 shots, hitting three.
"We lost last year to Michigan [in the second round] by missing free throws, and we lost tonight the same way," said Anderson.
After losing to the Wolverines in last season's Sweet 16, Maryland is looking forward to its first matchup with Connecticut since losing in the first of two ACC-Big East challenges, 87-65, in 1989-90.
That game was a long time ago in terms of recent Maryland history. The Terps have since played in two NIT games -- beating Massachusetts at home and losing to Penn State in Happy Valley in 1990 -- and five NCAA tournament games, including last year's season-ending loss to the Wolverines.
"We've had a lot of quiet confidence going into the tournament," said Williams. "Maybe with the experience we had last year [against Saint Louis and Massachusetts, as well as Michigan] helped us this week and hopefully having been to the Sweet 16 last year will help us again."
But what helps Maryland most is having Gary and Joe, the two stars of this team's Great NCAA Tournament Adventure, returning. For Williams, it's to the sideline. For Smith, it's to regular-season All-America form.
NOTES: The Huskies, who advanced with a 96-91 win over seventh-seeded Cincinnati, will be practicing for a couple of days in Reno, Nev., before heading to Oakland. Maryland had planned to spend two days at the Nike training facility in Beaverton, Ore., but Williams said last night that an NCAA official nixed it. "He said it would have been an improper benefit," Williams said. The Terps will practice here today before leaving for Oakland tonight.