- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

A third of the way through the season, the Maryland Terrapins have handled just about every impediment in their path save for a season-opening speed bump on their way to an 8-1 record and No. 3 ranking.
The Terps followed a loss in their first game to Arizona, which has since gone from unranked to No. 6, with eight straight victories all by eight or more points. Now in the midst of a 10-day layoff, Maryland faces the challenge, as coach Gary Williams said recently, of keeping its edge until it plays at Oklahoma on Friday.
"I think the way we played in the second half [against Monmouth] shows us we can be a really good team when things are clicking on all cylinders," Tahj Holden said after the Terps' victory Tuesday. "The way we played in the second half is the way we want to play for 40 minutes. Once we get to that point, I think we'll be happy with it. Until then, we have some work to do."
So far, the Terps have dealt with the increased pressure and expectations that are part of a preseason No. 2 billing and last year's Final Four run. Williams maintained the Terps have dealt with the pressure just as they had in previous years. But last season's preseason No. 5 team started 1-3 and hit the skids midway through the ACC season before rallying for a NCAA tournament run.
"We're [No. 3] I guess we've dealt with it pretty well so far," Williams said. "That's the only thing you have to judge on."
Maryland has won thus far largely on the strength of its defense and offensive contributions from many players. The Terps, who play man-to-man almost exclusively after applying pressure in the backcourt, are allowing opponents to shoot just 35.5 percent, a figure that ranks in the top 10 in Division I. On Tuesday, Monmouth made just two of its first 19 field goals.
While getting accustomed to his starting role, Holden is averaging more than three points higher than last season. The electrifying Chris Wilcox is the team's third-leading scorer following a breakout performance in the Illinois game. Byron Mouton has come on the last two games a short time removed from attending the funeral of his brother and scored a combined 30 points. The Terps aren't having problems finding scoring options after Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter.
The Terps are shooting a respectable 46.0 percent from the field, and after a poor start, have come on to shoot better from the foul line. For all of his raw athleticism, Wilcox remains a liability at the line, shooting 11-for-34 (32.4 percent).
"We can shoot the ball better," Williams said. "Both from the free throw line, although it's coming around. I think we have shot better [from the field] the last couple games, at least better than we've been. We're still not operating as well as I'd like to offensively."
In practices over the break for semester exams, Williams said he will change things to keep a fresh approach, including rearranging scrimmaging sides (instead of the usual first vs. second team), plus doing more situational and shooting drills.
Throughout the season, Terps players, particularly Mouton and Dixon, have talked about the team developing a "killer instinct" making sure it comes out with a purpose and has the ability to put teams away when the opportunity is there. Players realize that, as a top-5 team, opponents are gunning for them every time out.
"It's a great attitude because if the chance [to put a team away] exists, then you do it," Williams said. "If you're that much better than the other team, then why let them hang around and get confidence? Just put them away. But in a majority of our games the rest of the year, that's not going to be the case."
It likely won't be the case Friday, when Maryland visits the No. 24 Sooners (5-1) in its first road game of the season.


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