- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

Maryland has proved it can beat a ranked team. Now the Terrapins have to show it wasn’t a fluke.

The Terps (4-0) meet No.17 Gonzaga (4-1) today in the BB&T; Classic at MCI Center just four days after defeating No.15 Wisconsin 73-67 in overtime. Maryland’s momentum entering Wednesday’s showdown at No. 2 Florida and national notoriety depends on beating Gonzaga, too.

“It’s hard to prove yourself if you play a rinky-dink schedule,” guard John Gilchrist said. “You have to play tough teams. The best play the best.”

The fourth 4-0 start in coach Gary Williams’ 15 seasons is a mild surprise. Maryland’s young roster of nine underclassmen, including five freshmen, was expected to need time before jelling. Instead, the Terps waived any grace period. Williams never expected it to be a rebuilding season anyway.

“What we’ve done is proven we’re as good as anybody in the ACC,” he said. “I think people, for whatever reason, two weeks ago didn’t feel that way. It’s nice to have everybody back on the bandwagon.”

The Terps aren’t caught up in the hype, though. One of their worst stretches last season came soon after beating top-ranked Duke. The sophomores told the freshmen beating Wisconsin doesn’t automatically mean they’ll down Gonzaga, too.

“This is a marathon — you don’t just win a game and think it’s over,” Gilchrist said. “You have to keep grinding, keep going.”

Williams recalled last season when several highly ranked teams faded by March while Maryland rebounded from a 4-3 start to reach the Sweet 16.

“It’s early,” he said. “You don’t get carried away by one game. We went into [Wisconsin] knowing if we didn’t play hard we’d lose, so we played hard. If we continue to play hard and get better at some things, we can be good, but there’s no guarantee you get that off one game.”

Maryland has learned to flow the offense through center Jamar Smith (17.3 points, 11.8 rebounds) and forward Nik Caner-Medley (14.5, 5.3). Williams has always preferred high-percentage shots as the offensive core, and Maryland outlasted Wisconsin by playing well underneath.

The Terps made only two of nine 3-pointers against the Badgers, who made 10 of 23. Maryland abandoned its outside scheme because the inside game was effective despite only a 41-40 rebounding edge.

“Hopefully, we found out as a team that getting the ball inside is a good thing,” Williams said. “It allows us to shoot the ball better. The idea of making a team stop us inside first is something we try to establish every year.”

Maryland also discovered how to survive pressure games before one of the louder crowds in Comcast Center’s two seasons. Wisconsin took a 61-60 lead with 12.5 seconds left before Caner-Medley tied it with 2.4 seconds remaining on his second free throw attempt to force overtime. The Terps didn’t let inexperience cause a meltdown.

“It was a lot of pressure,” guard Chris McCray said. “That was the most intense game outside Duke that I’ve been involved in.”

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