HONOLULU -- Maryland advanced to the championship game of the Rainbow Classic and also made a bit of Terrapins basketball history this morning by beating the host University of Hawaii, 76-59, before a sellout of 10,200 at the Special Events Center.
The 21st-ranked Terps will meet Georgia (10-1), which edged Memphis, 70-68, in the first semifinal last night, in tomorrow morning's (12: 30, ESPN) Rainbow final.
By winning their 11th straight, the Terps tied the school record set by the 1975-76 team for the best start to a season.
That celebrated squad boasted All-American John Lucas and future NBA players Brad Davis and Steve Sheppard.
The current team depends on the leadership of senior captain Keith Booth and a number of unselfish role players.
Booth again showed the way, scoring 25 points and making several clutch shots whenever Hawaii (7-2) threatened to make it close in the second half.
The Terps had moved to a 59-44 advantage before hitting a scoring drought. The Rainbows closed to 64-54 with 4: 50 remaining. Booth countered with a pair of free throws and an open jumper to put it out of reach.
Maryland got off to a shaky start against the Rainbows. Booth picked up two personals in the first two minutes, the second on a charging call.
The Rainbows jumped out to a 9-4 lead, scoring from inside and outside. Micah Kroeger hit a three-pointer and bulky 6-foot-8 forward Eric Ambrozich made the partisan crowd roar with a thunderous slam dunk.
But the Terps maintained their poise, as they have done all season when faced with deficits. They consistently beat Hawaii in transition. Consecutive layups by Laron Profit, and a pair of free throws by Terrell Stokes pushed Maryland ahead 10-9.
The Rainbows were having difficulty with Maryland's swarming defense and committed several turnovers.
The Baltimore Dunbar connection of Booth and Rodney Elliott combined for five straight points to give the Terps a 15-11 edge.
Meanwhile, the Terps defense, led by reserve guard Matt Kovarik, forced three straight Hawaii turnovers. They converted the mistakes into a 21-15 advantage.
But they could not shake the Rainbows. Seth Sundberg, 7-1 and 265 pounds, used his wide body for a pair of follow-up baskets. Junior forward Michael Robinson chipped in with a pair of baskets to cut the deficit to 28-24.
Maryland continued its hot shooting, making 13 of its first 20 shots, including a rim-shaking dunk by Booth. Hawaii had a 12-6 advantage on the boards, but committed eight turnovers in the first 14 minutes.
Neither team could score in a ragged four-minute stretch. On one possession, the Terps missed three close-range shots.
Stokes ended the scoring famine, hitting a three-point shot to boost Maryland's lead to 33-24 with 2: 15 left in the half.
A driving layup by Obinna Ekezie and Booth's baseline move upped the margin to 37-26. Hawaii guard Aaron Curry closed out the first-half scoring with a pair of free throws.
The Terps extended their lead in the opening minutes of the second half. A steal and layup by Stokes and Booth's breakaway basket on a full-court pass by Profit made it 42-30.
Just when it appeared Maryland might blow it open, the Rainbows put together a seven-point spurt.
Booth ended this streak with a three-point play and Profit followed with four straight points to push the advantage to 49-37.
Pub Date: 12/30/96