HONOLULU -- In previous years, several high-profile college basketball coaches have not adhered to Hawaii's creed of "hang loose" while participating in the annual Rainbow Classic.
In 1981, then-Bradley coach Dick Versace grabbed referee Larry Yamashita's whistle after a disputed call and tossed it into the stands. The next day, Bradley fans all wore T-shirts bearing a printed obscenity with Yamashita's name.
A year earlier, Indiana's Bob Knight threw one of his classic tantrums. A tournament sponsor had given all the Hoosiers pineapples to sample back in their hotel. Knight ordered the bus driver to slam on the brakes and dumped the box of pineapples in an alley.
But Maryland's Gary Williams, making his fourth tournament visit to Hawaii, including one to Maui when he was coaching at Ohio State, has fond memories of the Aloha state.
"I've done pretty well over here," said Williams, who sends his unbeaten Terps (9-0) against Pitt (5-5) in the tournament opener at 10 tonight. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
Maryland reached the finals in Maui in 1994, beating Utah in the semifinals before bowing to Arizona State.
In 1989, the Terps won the Chaminade Christmas Classic, routing Cal State-Sacramento, 98-68, in the final.
The way the Rainbow pairings are set, Maryland, ranked No. 21, is again expected to find its way to the finals against fourth-ranked Michigan.
The Terps will be heavy favorites against Pitt, which lost to Navy earlier this season. They then would meet the winner of tonight's second game, Northwestern or host Hawaii.
"We're not looking past our first game," Williams said. "That's the best way to approach a tournament in which you have to win three times."
Williams held a practice on Christmas Day but has otherwise allowed his players freedom to enjoy the beaches and sites of Oahu.
"I just ask them to focus on practice and games," he said. "For a lot of people, traveling to Hawaii is a once-in-a-lifetime proposition."
If Maryland wins its first two games here, it will tie the record set by the 1975-76 Terps, who started the season 11-0 and featured John Lucas.
"This team is very together," Williams said. "The players take their cue from [Keith] Booth, who doesn't try to be something he's not. He doesn't need the glitter or headlines."
Booth, averaging 20.7 points and using his post moves and powerful body to shoot 50 percent from the field, leads a balanced offense. Six players are averaging more than nine points per game.
But this is a typical Williams team that stresses constant defensive pressure. After nine games, the Terps have forced more turnovers (202) than field goals allowed (192).
They will quickly test the Pitt backcourt of junior point guard Kevin Willard, the son of head coach Ralph Willard, and Kellii Taylor, a promising freshman from Silver Spring, Md.
"They try to make it an ugly game," Williams said. "That was how they beat UConn [56-49] early in the year."
Pub Date: 12/27/96