- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

The next eight days may reveal the Maryland Terrapins’ postseason potential.

With three ranked opponents coming up, the young Terps either will mature quickly or stumble badly.

Maryland (3-0) meets No.15 Wisconsin (3-0) tonight in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Comcast Center. Maryland then faces No.17 Gonzaga (3-1) on Saturday in the BB&T; Classic at MCI Center and either George Washington or West Virginia on Sunday before traveling to No.2 Florida (2-0) on Dec.10.

“This is as good a stretch as we’ll play,” coach Gary Williams said. “[Comcast] will be different than it was for the first three games. It’s a new experience for some of the guys, and you need it before going onto the road or league play.”

Tonight’s nationally televised game will be the first of several new experiences for the Terps’ five freshmen. Williams hopes the experience will ready them, along with the four sophomores, for ACC play.

“We need this kind of test here to see how we’re going to do,” said forward Travis Garrison, one of the sophomores. “If we beat these guys, our confidence level will go up.”

Said guard Andre Collins: “The next couple weeks are the key to the season. Guys won’t need any help getting pumped. It’s a good situation. It could mean a lot to the season.”

Center Jamar Smith isn’t intimidated by the schedule, though. The team’s sole senior already has three double-doubles and is ready to test better teams.

“It’s just a ranking next to their name,” he said. “Everybody’s the same to me.”

Despite the unbeaten start, the Terps will have to improve. Maryland converted only 31 of 55 free throws in its 87-72 victory over Hofstra on Saturday. The Terps are shooting 56 percent at the foul line and 45.9 percent from the field.

“What I like about the players is they felt they didn’t play well,” Williams said of the Hofstra victory. “We’re trying to get to a certain level.”

But 56 percent from the line? Williams didn’t change any mechanics during practice or force the players to shoot free throw after free throw. Improvement will come with confidence.

“It’s almost like a baseball team that goes along for a week, and the ball won’t drop in, and all of a sudden they score 14 runs in a game,” Williams said. “Where does that come from? What we need to do is have one game where we start making free throws early in the game, and we’ll be fine.”

The Terps have played well defensively, holding opponents to 36 percent shooting from the field. However, Maryland can’t be lulled into a low-scoring game against Wisconsin’s patient halfcourt offense. The Terps’ uptempo style feeds off defensive breaks.

“There’s a tendency to rush because you look up at the scoreboard and it’s 10-8 instead of 20-16, and you’re wondering why the score is so low,” Williams said. “There’s not as many possessions.”

Maryland also needs to increase its early leads instead of allowing opponents to get back in the game. The Terps weathered opposing runs in their last two games.

“We have to put them down and keep them down,” Collins said.

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