- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

LAHAINA, Hawaii Most people come to Maui to forget their problems and go home reinvigorated after a relaxing vacation in paradise.

Not so for the Maryland basketball team.

Instead of leaving their troubles behind, the sixth-ranked and soon-to-drop Terps discovered a whole series of problems.

Maryland suffered consecutive losses to close its season-opening venture to the Maui Invitational, and the Terps return to the mainland hoping to shore up the unforeseen difficulties that rolled in off Kaanapali Beach.

"If that was the whole season, I would be very disappointed with our toughness," said coach Gary Williams after his team was upset by a smaller Dayton team in Wednesday's third-place game. "We're not rebounding because we don't go after the ball. We should go after the ball more. When there are loose balls on the floor, Dayton had three guys diving. I expect us to go down there with them."

The Terps' (1-2) attitude and toughness were questioned after No. 8 Illinois outrebounded them by 18 in the semifinals and unranked Dayton did the same by eight. Maryland opened the season with a rousing blowout of Louisville in the first round, but after two discouraging losses, that impressive victory might as well have been last season.

"Never in the worst way never," said Terps swingman Byron Mouton when asked if he imagined leaving Hawaii with two losses. "This team is just finding its weaknesses. If we know how to rebound, we'll beat teams bad. We just have to find a way to stop people from getting offensive rebounds."

Mouton made his brief comments while rushing to a bus after an extended post-game meeting in the locker room Wednesday. The Terps were the only team in the field that did not make players available in post-game news conferences.

Rebounding is just the most identifiable way the Terps' troubles are manifesting on the court. Several players are struggling, the most troubling of which is Terence Morris. The All-American candidate shied from contact rather than go hard to the basket and draw fouls. The 6-foot-9 senior did not take a foul shot against Dayton and shot only seven free throws over the three games.

"He's not really taking the ball to the basket even when he gets it inside," said Williams, whose only productive inside player has been Lonny Baxter. "And that's how you get to the free throw line. You don't get it on jump shots or jump hooks."

The Terps hope their lack of aggressiveness was brought on by the palm-tree flanked beaches and mid-'80s temperatures and that a return to a colder, harsher climate will toughen them up. Maryland travels from paradise to polar ice next week when it plays No. 18 Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Point guard Steve Blake also had a discouraging tournament; he was indecisive and erratic. The normally cool sophomore looked like a rattled freshman rather than the savvy veteran who made his mark as a calm floor leader during the ACC schedule last season.

"With point guards, sometimes they try to do too much, instead of just staying in what makes you a good player," said Williams, whose team caught a red-eye flight home last night and will take today off and practice tomorrow. "Steve is a very good player. We need him to run the offense and get the ball to [Juan] Dixon and people like Terence."

There was a short list of encouraging signs to come out of Maui. Center Baxter found his inside presence in the finale after rarely getting the ball against Illinois. Reserve point guard Drew Nicholas showed he is competent in his new position.

While a few questions were answered, many more were not. The overriding concerns coming out of the Pacific Isle are ones of toughness and motivation.

"[People] thought just because we had all our guys back that would mean we would be a great team automatically," said Williams, who returned his top eight players from last season's 25-10 team. "Players change over the college years. Interests change. Some guys like basketball more, some guys like basketball less. Some guys know they are not going to the NBA. All those things affect players and the team."

This group has battled through crises before. Last season, the then-inexperienced unit began 0-3 in the ACC before rallying to finish second in the league. The beginning of the conference schedule is still more than a month away.

The Terps would like to see positive results before then and will try to solve some problems next week against the Badgers and distance themselves from their tropical island nightmare.

"We are very aware of what we have to do," Williams said.

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