- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Billy Donovan, coach of No.1-ranked Florida, joked he might wear a yellow jersey as the latest leader in a long Tour de France-like season. Instead, he might need a white flag.

Maryland coach Gary Williams brings his Terps into O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., tonight in search of his sixth win over a No.1 team.

“I like to coach against good coaches,” said Williams, whose Terps are 4-2. “As a player I liked [playing the best players]. I always felt that made me better. I know it makes you better as a coach because you have to work hard to stay where you can compete against those guys.”

Williams’ five wins over top-ranked teams is tied with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for the most among active coaches. Of course two of Williams’ upsets have come against Duke in each of the last two seasons. The coach also has upsets over North Carolina (1995 and ‘98) and a victory over then-No.1 Iowa when coaching Ohio State in 1987. Williams has led Maryland to 10 straight NCAA tournaments and won the 2002 national championship, but he still relishes the underdog role.

“In our league, you’re going to play a No.1 team once in awhile,” he said. “A lot of college players go through their whole career and never get a chance to play a No.1 team. I’ve always looked forward to the challenge of big games. We know what it’s like to have teams come in trying to get you and we know what it’s like trying to get a team ranked higher than us.”

The unranked Terps missed a chance to return to the polls after beating No.15 Wisconsin 73-67 in overtime on Dec.2 but then losing to No.17 Gonzaga and West Virginia in the BB&T; Classic. However, Williams dismissed the notion that Maryland is in “crisis;” the Terps have had a rough early-season schedule and will have played three ranked teams in eight days. Rather than beat “cupcake” opponents to inflate the team’s record, the coach is readying a young team for the coming ACC grind.

“You play a No.1 team on their court, it’s not easy,” Williams said, “but this game will help us when we get into the ACC season. It’s nice to play the road game in a tough place before you go on the road in the league.”

Maryland has beaten eight No.1 teams since 1959, trailing only UCLA (10) and North Carolina (9). However, the Terps’ 1986 victory at North Carolina was the only road win and the 1979 upset of Notre Dame was the only one against a non-ACC team. Williams admitted home-court advantage is a big edge, as it was in Maryland’s upset of Wisconsin.

“We played with great emotion here with 18,000 people,” he said, “and when you have a young team they can feed off it more than veterans do.”

If Maryland hopes to give Williams that sixth upset, the Terps need to improve their perimeter defense and foul shooting. Maryland has converted only 56.7 percent of its free throws, twice going to overtime after making only one of two shots in the final seconds.

“They’re momentum breakers for you,” Williams said. “It’s like a turnover.”

Maryland must counter Florida’s backcourt — Matt Walsh (16.8 points) and Anthony Roberson (16.3) — that thrives on 3-pointers. Maryland’s opponents have converted 41.5 percent of their 3-pointers compared to 32.2 percent last year. The outside shooting proved especially damaging against Gonzaga and West Virginia. Florida has converted 35.7 percent of its 3-pointers and led the SEC last year with 39 percent.

Meanwhile, the Terps need to find their outside threat after it was stymied by 2-3 zones.

Maryland thrives inside with center Jamar Smith (17.5, 11.2 rebounds) and forward Nik Caner-Medley (13.3, 5.5). While guards Chris McCray and John Gilchrist combine for 23 points, neither has replaced the departed Drew Nicholas as an outside gamebreaker. Freshman guard Mike Jones was renowned for his outside shot, but hasn’t progressed enough to merit many minutes.

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