In the locker room of the Dean E. Smith Center, Williams put in writing his belief that the Terrapins would beat the Tar Heels in the rematch at Comcast Center. Then he asked his players to do the same.
"Whoever else believed, needed to sign their name," junior guard Eric Hayes said.
All the Terrapins scrawled their names on the board. Eighteen days later, they rallied from 16 points down and beat then-No. 3 North Carolina, 88-85, in overtime.
Several Terps recalled the moment yesterday as a pivotal point of the season, which continues today with an NCAA tournament first-round game against California (22-10). What the moment suggests, players said, is how Williams and his players bonded when they needed to most.
"We all definitely wanted to play hard and prove to all those people that [Williams] still knows what he's doing and can do a great job," Hayes said. "And he's proved that this year."
It has not been the smoothest of regular seasons for Maryland (20-13), which secured an NCAA bid after winning two games in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Little was expected this season of the smallish Terps, who lost top rebounders James Gist and Bambale Osby to graduation. Williams, in his 20th season at Maryland, has seen his recruiting questioned by fans and the media.
Asked about that yesterday, the coach replied: "The idea is to get to the NCAA tournament. We've been here 13 out of 16 years. Either I'm a hell of a coach or we're pretty good recruiters."
The more the criticism intensified, the harder the Terps seemed to play.
"Definitely, it was a motivation for us because we've got his back," said junior guard Greivis Vasquez, who leads the team in points, rebounds and assists.
"I think the media helped us out this year," Vasquez said. "I think they should do that every year - talk trash about Maryland so we can prove you guys wrong."
Maryland won four of six games after rumors began to circulate about Williams' job security. On Feb. 2, athletic director Debbie Yow appeared at a media session to debunk the rumors and express support.
The next night, the Terps lost at North Carolina, 108-91.
Maryland coaches told the players afterward that they should take note of how they had scored 91 points, their season high in an ACC game. They said the Terps would better defend against three-pointers (North Carolina had made 16) when the teams met again. But it was Williams' prediction that stuck with players.
Freshman Sean Mosley said it was unlike the coach to look to a game 18 days away instead of focusing solely on the next contest, five days later against Georgia Tech. Maryland beat Georgia Tech, 57-56.
"It was weird for me," Mosley said. "But he pushed us to believe in ourselves, to have confidence. He said the second time we play [the Tar Heels], we're going to beat them. And then it happened."
Notes:: Maryland held a closed practice at Sprint Center yesterday, followed by an open workout. ... The Terps were pleased to see President Barack Obama pick them to win their opening-round game. Obama had them losing to Memphis in the second round. "I like the fact he picked us to win the first game," Vasquez said. "We have to prove him wrong by winning the second."... Cal coach Mike Montgomery said Maryland has been a different team in the season's second half. "We checked statistically the last 10 games, and their numbers are way up," he said.
MARYLAND (20-13) VS. CAL (22-10)
Today, about 2:55 p.m.,
Kansas City, Mo.
Radio: 1300 AM, 1090 AM, 105.7 FM
Line: Cal by 1
what to look for
Can Maryland contain California's outside game? The Golden Bears shoot 43.4 percent on three-point tries, the best in NCAA Division I. The Terps, who periodically used zone defense against larger teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, will likely come out in man-to-man and emphasize guarding the perimeter. On offense, Maryland is always better when it can consistently get scoring from somebody besides Greivis Vasquez, its leader.
Jerome Randle, Cal's junior point guard, vs. Maryland's defense. Randle averages 18.4 points and 4.9 assists and is shooting 46.8 percent on threes.
what it means
The Terps know full well that Memphis is probably waiting for them in the second round. But first they must beat Cal.
* 12:15 p.m.:
Stephen F. Austin-Syracuse
* 2:45 p.m. (approximate):
* 7:20 p.m.:
Southern California-Boston College
* 9:40 p.m. (approximate):
Cleveland State-Wake Forest