- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

Gary Williams is Maryland’s winningest basketball coach ever with 367 victories over 18 seasons. His teams have gone to 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 years and two Final Fours. And in 2002, of course, the Terrapins snatched the Holy Grail of college hoops, a national championship.

Big deal. One of these winter days or nights, the man who turned Maryland into Garyland could find himself become something of an afterthought in his own back yard — at least among sports writers with overactive imaginations.

The problem, if there is one, is Brenda Frese, the Maryland women’s coach. Williams’ teams have been successful over the last two seasons (33-15). Frese’s have been fantastically successful (51-4).

In sports, the eternal question is, what have you done lately? And when Frese’s Terps collected their own NCAA title last spring, they were relegating Williams at least temporarily to second place on the list of fan favorites in College Park and environs.

So far this season, nothing has changed. Williams’ team is humming along with a 14-2 record and suggesting that another deep run is likely when March Madness descends.

What about the women? Oh, yes, they’re 17-0 and top-ranked after yesterday’s 97-57 demolition of Michigan State before a loud crowd of 12,295 at Comcast Center, and their 23-game winning streak over two seasons is the nation’s longest by any college team.

This mismatch provided more evidence, if any is required, that the Terps should be overwhelming favorites to go 2-for-2 next spring in Final Fours. Maryland played unselfishly and well against a team that came in 12-2, putting the Spartans away early with a 20-6 spurt over the first 6 minutes. Crystal Langhorne scored 28 points, Kristi Toliver had 12 points and six assists, the defense held the visitors to 29.3 percent shooting and the Terps owned the boards by a 56-32 margin. Indeed, the Spartans were so outclassed they might have sneaked back home by way of West Lansing.

In the postgame interview, Frese was asked how awesomely good her Terps could be down the road. After a few obligatory comments about “playing 40 minutes every game” and “respecting every opponent,” she affirmed what everybody already knows: “I think this is a special team.”

Very.

I’m sure Williams is simply delighted, sort of. Coaches have fragile egos, and Gary can’t relish the prospect of becoming the Avis of Maryland basketball gurus.

Before the season, a man suggested to a publisher that Williams might like to write a foreword to “Overtime Is Our Time,” a book that chronicles the women’s magic 2005-06 season.

The publisher’s reply was predictably pithy: “Are you kidding?”

Probably the two coaches don’t talk that often in season, but it’s fun to imagine a meeting in the bowels of Comcast Center.

Gary: “Coach Frese, I see your guys — er, gals are averaging 87.4 points a game, best in the country, and we’re only scoring 81.8. Could you give me a few pointers on how to run an offense?”

Brenda: “Gary, I’d be glad to. Why don’t you come to my basketball camp next summer — fellow coaches get a 10-percent discount.”

I can’t say which of the two is athletic director Debbie Yow’s favorite, because she adores any Maryland coach who plays by the rules and wins. Yet you might want to remember that Debbie is a former women’s coach herself and constitutes, with sister Kay, one of the most successful duos of siblings in basketball history.

During combat, Williams and Frese are total opposites. Some coaches change drenched shirts at halftime; Gary sweats so much that he probably changes suits. When officials whistle a foul against the Terps, or don’t whistle a perceived one against the opposition, he takes it very personally and reacts very vocally.

Frese, by contrast, is the epitome of cool, constantly shouting advice to her troops but never epithets at the zebras. Where Williams crouches on his knees during games more than any 61-year-old man should, Brenda merely stalks the sideline and encourages her players.

But such external signs aren’t really important. What’s important is how many wins coaches plot and inspire. In this regard, both Maryland basketball bosses deserve admiration and applause.

As far as who’s No. 1, let’s reserve judgment. Maybe, ultimately, it will be a tie.

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