COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard didn’t make any excuses for what transpired Wednesday night against No. 16 UCLA.
After the No. 20 Terps struggled in every aspect of the game in an 87-60 loss, their most lopsided at Xfinity Center since it opened in 2002, the first-year coach simply said “[UCLA] just kicked our [butt].”
There’s no better way to describe the Terps’ third straight loss. The Bruins had full control the entire night, and Maryland couldn’t do anything to stop them. UCLA forced 16 turnovers, shut Maryland down with its half-court defense and even limited the Terps’ pick-and-roll action. On offense, the Bruins scored from everywhere on the floor, whether it was knocking down 3-pointers or powering to the rim on fast breaks.
Similar to previous losses against Tennessee and Wisconsin, the Terps (8-3) dug themselves in another early hole. Maryland shot 30% from the field and 2-for-11 from the 3-point line in the first half. They fell behind by as many as 38 points and finished the game shooting 40.4% thanks to a couple of late baskets from their bench players that prevented what could have been the worst home loss in program history.
While the Terps have been resilient thus far under Willard, the packed crowd at Xfinity Center didn’t see the type of rally the team had shown against the Badgers and Volunteers.
When UCLA jumped out to a 13-5 lead, Maryland fans waited. When UCLA went up by 19 with eight minutes left in the first half, Maryland fans waited. By time the scoreboard read 49-20 in favor of the Bruins at halftime, it was clear that the Terps might be in for a long night that might make Willard question his 20-year friendship with UCLA coach Mick Cronin.
“This is the first time this team’s had to go through adversity, and we’re figuring it out a little bit on the fly,” Willard said. “And we didn’t figure it out very well tonight.”
Hours after the University of California Board of Regents voted to affirm UCLA’s move to the Big Ten, the Bruins (9-2) secured their largest win over a ranked opponent since the 2009-10 season against a future conference foe.
Cronin said his team is no better than the Terps and even praised Willard for his early season success. “What he’s done early to have all these people here and do it this quickly is a miracle,” he said. “They have the right guy in charge.”
But as the game unraveled, Cronin noticed the Terps were worn down and their emotional gas tank was practically empty.
“They were in a bloodbath on Sunday,” Cronin said, referring to Maryland’s 56-53 loss to Tennessee in which the Terps fought back after trailing by 21 points. “We were able to play our subs most of the game against Denver on Saturday. They were in a bloodbath at Wisconsin last week, as well. ... I think the schedule was clearly in our favor.”
Perhaps the lone bright spot was junior guard Ian Martinez, who led the way with 16 points and four rebounds. Senior forward Donta Scott added 12 points for Maryland, which missed its first eight shots from the field and nine of its first 10 from 3-point range.
Leading scorer Jahmir Young delivered his worst performance as a Terp, finishing with three points on 0-for-8 shooting. Sophomore forward Julian Reese (St. Frances) also missed the entire second half due to a shoulder injury, but Willard said Reese’s injury is not serious and that trainers suggested he stay out of the game for precautionary reasons.
Maryland lacked the enthusiasm and energy it normally displays on defense, and it showed during the opening minutes of the game. In UCLA’s first game in College Park in 40 years, the Bruins used a commanding 17-2 run in the first half to set the tone. Guard Jaylen Clark was the star of the night, totaling 19 points and six rebounds. Jamie Jaquez Jr. added 14 points and seven boards, and he and Clark recorded eight of the Bruins’ 13 steals.
“We just didn’t have a lot of energy on the defensive end, and they took advantage of it,” Willard said after the Terps allowed the Bruins to shoot 55.6% from the field and outscore them 44-16 in the paint.
UCLA reminded Maryland why it’s considered national title contenders — and how far the Terps are from reaching that level. The Bruins, who reached the Final Four two seasons ago and the Sweet 16 last year, consistently closed off passing lanes and racked up steal after steal, turning 16 turnovers into 19 points.
“Coach always says we beat ourselves,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, we put the ball in their hands by not making the right reads.”
Willard did everything he could. He subbed in reserves Patrick Emilien, Jahari Long and Martinez less than six minutes into the game. He exhausted more than half of his timeouts in the first half, trying to contain UCLA’s momentum. Nothing worked.
Maryland never solved UCLA’s full-court pressure, which featured two players double-teaming Young as soon as he received the ball. Even when the Terps tried to get into the paint, the Bruins formed a brick wall in front of the rim, denying any opportunities.
With Maryland facing its second-largest halftime deficit since 2009-10, the opening minutes were essential to making the game somewhat competitive. Things only got worse. Young missed layups, graduate transfer Don Carey watched another 3-point attempt bounce off the rim and senior guard Hakim Hart’s outside shot was blocked.
UCLA, meanwhile, continued to do whatever it wanted at the other end. David Singleton (18 points) made a pair of 3-pointers while forward Adem Bona (14 points) put down two rim-shaking dunks. The Bruins opened the second half shooting 60% from the field and led 68-35 with 11:12 to go.
Playing three ranked opponents in four games has been physically and mentally taxing, Carey said, “[but] we got to be tougher. We have another stretch just like this in January.”
The Terps’ 8-0 start surprised the nation, as they climbed to No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll despite being written off before playing their first game. On Wednesday, they were brought back to reality and reminded how unforgiving college basketball is. How the Terps respond from this losing skid will say a lot about the team moving forward.
“Every once in a while you get your [butt] kicked. It’s part of life,” Willard said. “They will bounce back.”
Saint Peter’s at No. 20 Maryland
Thursday, Dec. 22, 6:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM