Did the turnaround start in the bowels of Cameron Indoor Stadium after a desultory loss to Duke, or in Virginia's University Hall, where the Terrapins claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory of the season?
From his vantage point at the Smith Center on Tuesday night, Williams refused to look back, partly out of superstition, he said, but perhaps also because he couldn't stand to revisit those early ghosts.
"We need to stay realistic," the Terps coach said as Maryland's electrifying 84-78 upset of No. 12 (and falling) North Carolina sent reverberations through the ACC. "We can be happy inside, but we don't want to say this is the highlight of our season."
Whatever precipitated Maryland's rebirth as an ACC contender and legitimate NCAA tournament team, the Terps are back from the brink. After an 0-3 start in conference play, they were threatening to come apart at the seams.
As recently as last week, the frustration was settling in everywhere. With the record at 2-4 and the team in semi-comeback, Williams banned player interviews. Then, at 4-4, forward Exree Hipp voiced indignation over his dwindling minutes.
At 5-4, the Terps have won three in a row and six of seven going into Saturday's game at Florida State. Suddenly, they've become the role model for a faltering Carolina team.
"Gary has really brought this team along," Carolina coach Dean Smith said. "Maryland is playing very well after maybe losing some confidence early against a tough schedule. Now we need to come back like they have.
"They started losing and started questioning. Now we're questioning."
Nowhere is Maryland's revival better illustrated than with Hipp, the lithe, 6-foot-8 senior. Stuck on the bench at critical minutes for continued poor play, he came up big in wins over Georgia Tech and Carolina, scoring a total of 24 points on 11-for-23 shooting. He also contributed formidable defense against Drew Barry and Dante Calabria.
At Carolina, he was slashing and creating some opportunities as front man on the fast break. He scored 10 straight Maryland points at one juncture and helped hold Calabria to a miserly six points.
"I was frustrating Calabria a lot," Hipp said. "He wasn't playing me on defense, and I was able to get out on the break."
Said Williams: "Ex did a great job defensively, and he saw opportunities on the break. That's how he helps us. I'm real proud of him. He's making good things happen."
The Terps are all beginning to make good things happen, from senior Johnny Rhodes, who delivered possibly the biggest steal of his career -- and ninth of the game -- with 13 seconds left, to sophomore Rodney Elliott, who hit two big baskets in a brief six-minute stint, to freshman Terrell Stokes, who broke a 78-78 tie with three crucial free throws in the final 20 seconds.
"He's got a lot of guts," junior Keith Booth said of Stokes. "He's a tough kid. He did a great job of staying focused. I knew the type person he is. He loved being in that situation."
Stokes, who shows no fear on the court, has gotten key minutes in the stretch run of all the Terps' recent games.
"He believes in himself," Williams said. "You want guys on the court who believe in themselves. The reason you recruit Terrell Stokes is, he's got skills, yes, but he's a winner. You recruit a winner. That's something people sometimes overlook."
Back from the dregs of an 0-3 start, Booth said he feels it all coming together.
"Everything is working," he said. "A lot of people counted us out, but there's still a lot of the season left. We're playing with a great deal of confidence now. And we want to ride this confidence."
Turning it up
Maryland has climbed back into the ACC race with a three-game winning streak. Here's how the Terrapins have turned it around in the ACC.
.... .... .... First 6 games .... .... Last 3
Record ..... ..... 2-4 ..... .... ....... 3-0
FG pct. ..... ..... 39.7 ...... .... ..... 48.6
Turnovers .... .... 17.0 ...... .... ..... 10.3
Steals ....... .... 8.3 ...... ..... ..... 10.7
..... .... ... Season ..... .... ..... ... Last
.... .... .... FG% .... ... Ppg. .... ... FG% .... .... Ppg.
Booth ..... ... 41.4 ...... 14.0 .... ... 50.0 .... ... 18.0
Rhodes .... ... 47.8 ...... 16.4 .... ... 51.5 .... ... 14.7
Simpkins ...... 52.0 ...... 13.0 .... ... 56.0 .... ... 15.0