The Terps play their first road game in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 8 tonight at University Hall in Charlottesville, Va., and the outmanned Cavaliers are a fine target for a team looking to vent the frustration that built up during Sunday's sorry 18-point loss to Duke.
Both teams are coming off losses that were the product of faulty offensive execution, and that's where the similarity ends.
Virginia (9-5, 0-2), down to six healthy scholarship players, will need all of first-year coach Pete Gillen's wisecracks in what should be its second straight season at the bottom of the ACC.
No. 5 Maryland (13-2, 1-1) has lost only to No. 6 Kentucky, last year's NCAA champion, and to the No. 2 Blue Devils, the prohibitive favorite to take the title this season. Coach Gary Williams was bewildered by talk of the Terps being troubled, even after their half-court shortcomings were unmasked by the Blue Devils.
Nary a word about Virginia was spoken during a lengthy video session Monday and a hard practice Tuesday.
"We don't need to spend two days worrying about any other team," senior center Obinna Ekezie said, "when we need to worry about ourselves."
Maryland committed 22 turnovers against Duke, its second-highest total of the season. The Terps shot a season-low 36.8 percent from the field. As Ekezie said, Maryland's offense "completely broke down in the second half," and Williams dissected that collapse during a two-hour tape critique.
"We usually don't watch that much tape, but I didn't want the players to miss any of the highlights," Williams said sarcastically. "The way you learn anything is through repetition. If you show it enough times, it will sink in."
Junior guard Steve Francis, who was 0-for-7 from the field in the second half, when Maryland fell back after earning a tie at the break, said the tape showed too many players standing around. Ekezie saw that the Terps often began their half-court sets before all five players were positioned properly.
In a game in which the Terps' quickness and pressure produced just one transition basket, their screens and cuts in the half-court offense just weren't sharp enough, not against an opponent of Duke's caliber.
"When you play the best teams, things [flaws] show up that you might get away with against a pretty good team," Williams said. "Everybody talks about working on defense, but against good defensive teams, you have to work on offense."
Other than possibly making Lonny Baxter the first big man off the bench before Mike Mardesich, Williams isn't planning any alterations to his rotation or his lineup.
That includes at the point, where senior Terrell Stokes starts the attack that misfired against Duke. Stokes had more turnovers (five) than assists (two) for the first time this season, but Williams gave no sign that he's considering benching Stokes, as he did for six games last season, or starting Francis at the point.
"We're the fifth-ranked team in the country," Williams said. "Because we didn't play well Sunday, there's no need to panic."
Maryland's half-court offense shouldn't be a factor tonight, because Gillen is as gung-ho about an up-tempo game as Williams.
Gillen, who was hired away from Providence after Virginia fired Jeff Jones, began the season with seven scholarship players, but then center Colin Ducharme broke a foot after the season opener. The Cavaliers carry seven walk-ons -- Gillen said one moonlights as a bartender -- but he hasn't tried to slow things down.
"We set up in a half-court game last year, and that didn't get us anywhere," sophomore guard Chezley Watson said. "We've got to pressure the ball, try to get some easy baskets."
Gillen was asked if he would tinker with his backcourt after Saturday's 69-53 loss at Wake Forest, a team Maryland led by 38 points last month. Sophomore point guard Donald Hand is averaging 17.2 points, but his 49 turnovers nearly negate his 57 assists.
"He's certainly a good player, but we're not pleased with his play at the point," Gillen said. "He has to make better decisions, when to shoot, when to pass. In the Wake Forest loss, our defense was decent but our offense was horrible."
Freshman forward Chris Williams is the Cavaliers' top scorer, with an 18.9 average. Gillen has lined up a highly rated recruiting class that will join him next fall, but the immediate future isn't so rosy. After Maryland, Virginia goes to Duke.
Site: University Hall, Charlottesville, Va.
TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 14
Pub Date: 1/07/99