- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

Conference play finally returns for the Maryland basketball team, and with it comes the opportunity to make up for one of last season’s critical losses.

The 14th-ranked Terrapins visit Miami this afternoon in a game Maryland has looked forward to for some time. It marks the permanent arrival of conference play, an upgrade in competition that remained in sight even as the Terps (11-2, 1-0 ACC) were brushing aside the likes of Delaware State and VMI in recent weeks.

“It’s big boy time now,” junior forward Ekene Ibekwe said. “We’re just ready to get it going.”

And there might not be a better opponent than the Hurricanes (8-6, 0-1), who dealt the Terps a 75-73 overtime loss last season in Coral Gables. Although other losses contributed to Maryland’s exclusion from the NCAA tournament last spring, the loss to Miami remains memorable because of two overtime calls.

Nik Caner-Medley appeared to give Maryland a two-point lead with 14 seconds left in overtime but was called for a charge. At the other end of the floor, the Terps committed a foul on a rebound, and former Miami forward William Frisby made two free throws with less than a second left to clinch the victory.

“Watching the tape, I still don’t think it was a charge, but that’s just the way it is,” Caner-Medley said. “It doesn’t make a difference. Hopefully, it won’t come down to that this year.”

It might not. The Hurricanes are struggling to establish some consistency despite returning much of a team that won 16 games. Guards Guillermo Diaz (15.9 points a game) and Robert Hite (15.1) remain the primary weapons of a team that receives little offensive production from its frontcourt.

It will be Maryland’s first true road game since March and its first game outside of Comcast Center in more than a month. The Terps have played four games on neutral courts, including three at the Maui Invitational and last month’s loss to George Washington at MCI Center.

“I don’t think there’s much difference from playing in Hawaii against Arkansas with a bunch of people yelling ‘pig sooey’ than playing at Miami,” coach Gary Williams said.

Maryland’s string of nonconference wins has minimized anyone’s ability to determine what sort of rotation the Terps have developed in the last month. In the Dec. 11 defeat of Boston College, Maryland relied almost exclusively on seven players in the second half, with the bench combining for 11 minutes after the break.

That might be an anomaly, but it will be curious to see how deep Williams is comfortable going against the Hurricanes. Mike Jones and James Gist are core members of the rotation, though center Will Bowers and backup point guard Parrish Brown also could provide vital minutes in the coming weeks.

“We’ve had guys like Parrish Brown, Mike Jones, Gist and Bowers have played well at times these last four games,” Williams said. “Now you have to do it [today]. It’s one thing to do it against the opponents we played against. It’s another to do it on the road against Miami.”

Or against top-ranked Duke, a trip that looms Wednesday for a veteran team that has inched closer to the top 10 in the last month with little notice. That game should prove telling in exactly where the Terps stand in both the ACC and the nation.

Yet unlike years past, the Terps believe they have the maturity to avoid looking ahead to their showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Even if they did, last season’s loss at Miami provides enough of a reminder why they can’t take the Hurricanes lightly.

“We still have a lot of things to prove as a team,” Caner-Medley said. “I don’t really think we have enough quality wins that we can be looking past a team like Miami. It’s an ACC game on the road, so there’s no reason in the world why we’d look past this team.”

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