- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Maryland's basketball team hopes some brisk Midwest air will snap it out of its tropical island doldrums.

The 13th-ranked Terps will play their first game this season in the continental United States tonight when they face No. 23 Wisconsin in Milwaukee in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It will be their first game since two embarrassing losses in Hawaii's Maui Invitational, which saw Maryland get badly outrebounded and outhustled.

"A lot of it is effort," said Terps coach Gary Williams, whose team was outrebounded by 18 by No. 9 Illinois and eight by a smaller 24th-ranked Dayton club. "It's rebounding and going after loose balls. It's that simple. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out when we get outrebounded by 18. With our size, that shouldn't happen."

Though it may be that basic, the cure may prove to be much more complex. Power forward Terence Morris relied on his finesse moves, and made no trips to the foul line against Dayton and only seven in the three-game tournament. Other big men Tahj Holden and Mike Mardesich also were ineffective inside. Lonny Baxter was Maryland's only effective post player.

The Terps (1-2) are in for another physical battle against the Badgers (1-1) college basketball's version of the WWF. The cheeseheads banged their way into the Final Four last season with their plodding style and bruising screens set by linemen in basketball uniforms.

"They are going to crash the boards," said Maryland guard Juan Dixon, who will try to break out of his own shooting difficulties after going 5-for-21 in the losses. "They have some big guys and play physical. It all starts with defensive rebounding. We got away from that in Maui. We let people drive and didn't go after the ball."

Being a finesse team was a trait the Terps had hoped to shake this season. Morris vowed to be tougher and mix it up more, but the 6-foot-9 senior was content with jumpers and baby hooks in Hawaii rather than getting dirty.

Maryland dropped from sixth in last week's poll to No. 13 this week after the Hawaiian horrors. The Terps still believe they are worthy of a top-10 ranking, but acknowledge they have done little to prove it.

"It's all about putting in the effort," said Dixon, whose team will play three tough games in five days with the BB&T; Classic this weekend. "We played hard the first game [a rout over Louisville] and didn't after that. I wasn't expecting that to happen. We thought we would go in and win those three games."

Dixon and Baxter are the workhorses on this team, but it is Morris who sets the tone and will ultimately decide the club's fate. If Morris is on, Maryland will have two inside powers and defenses will have to collapse and leave outside shooters open. And suddenly all the pieces fall into place and everyone looks better.

Without that inside presence, Maryland won't get many easy shots and will struggle against power teams; scoring becomes much harder, and opponents get second and third shots on offense. Then the Terps' weaknesses become readily apparent like last week.

"[Morris] needs to be more aggressive, but we have other guys that also need to be more aggressive," Williams said. "Tajh Holden and Mike Mardesich also have big physical bodies."

Point guard Steve Blake will try to relocate his smooth game after his erratic play in Hawaii. The 10-deep Terps got some encouraging signs off the bench with the reckless style of Byron Mouton and Drew Nicholas doing a steady job at backup point guard. Baxter reasserted himself with 20 points and six blocks in the loss to Dayton.

But the Terps need more of an inside presence if they are to compete with power teams and have a chance at improving on last season's 25-10 record. They have the size, mass and skill to do it. The question is do they have the will.

"We have to be more physical," said Williams, whose team allowed the Illini an astonishing 27 offensive rebounds. "We have guys running around 260, 240 [pounds]. We are physical enough to be banging somebody around."

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