Kovarik, Terps exceed expectations Little-used swingman now a defensive stopper

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The cheering section will be there today behind the visitors' bench at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, just as it has been for Matt Kovarik's first two years at Maryland when the Terrapins come to play Wake Forest.

But today there will be a difference.


The family and friends who drive from nearby Greensboro to root for Kovarik will know that the redshirt junior guard not only will play but likely will be a contributor. And unlike just about everyone else, they hope for something that hasn't happened here in a while.

They hope the 11th-ranked Terrapins win.


Kovarik made a significant, if unexpected, contribution as a freshman three years ago. Coming in toward the end of the first half of a sloppy, low-scoring game, Kovarik hit a three-pointer zTC from the top of the key to put Maryland ahead and scored five points in 12 minutes of a 61-58 victory.

It was the last time Maryland (14-2, 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) beat second-ranked Wake Forest (13-0, 5-0) here.

"It was a great feeling," Kovarik recalled yesterday. "It was definitely one of my highlights."

Until recently, it might have been the most exciting moment in Kovarik's career as a Terrapin. He was a spot player as a freshman, averaging just less than nine minutes a game. He played even fewer minutes as a sophomore. Most of the attention he got that year was for being the roommate of Joe Smith, the national Player of the Year.

After sitting out all but five games last season with a leg injury and receiving a medical redshirt, even Maryland coach Gary Williams wasn't sure what to expect from Kovarik this season. But just as the Terrapins have, Kovarik has exceeded expectations.

"Any time you sit out a year, you can get some doubts about yourself," Williams said. "But you also get to find out how much you've missed it. I wondered about Matt, whether he really wanted to play again. I knew he'd be on the team, but would he be on the court? He's worked hard to get to where he is now."

Said Kovarik: "I learned a lot not playing. I got to see what [Williams] wanted and what he doesn't want. I'm trying to assert myself more. I'm trying to make something happen. Those first two years, I definitely was scared to make a mistake. I thought if I did, I'd come right out."

Though it doesn't show up with an impressive line of stats, Kovarik has become a regular member of Williams' rotation for the first time since a short stretch as a freshman. At 6 feet 5 and 195 pounds, Kovarik's size has enabled Williams to use him at shooting guard and small forward as well as point guard, his natural position.


Kovarik played an important role in Maryland's amazing comeback win at North Carolina last week, finishing with two points, four assists and a steal in 15 minutes.

He also has found a role as a defensive stopper, and likely will have to slow either Tony Rutland or Jerry Braswell today. "I think he's become one of the better defensive guards in the ACC," Williams said.

NOTE: After shooting 50 percent (nine of 18) from the free-throw line in Wednesday night's loss against Clemson, including a stretch where they missed six in a row at the end of the first half, the Terrapins had an extra hour of free-throw shooting practice Friday night.

Pub Date: 1/19/97