- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

The schedule maker is the only one who can slow down the streaking Maryland Terrapins these days.
The 14th-ranked Terps visit N.C. State tonight for their only game in an 11-day period. Maryland (18-7, 10-4), after winning three of four over an eight-day stretch that included 40- and 39-point routs, has hit an ebb in its schedule.
With only two road games remaining before the ACC tournament, the Terps seem disconnected from their rousing recent run. Maryland won't play again until March9 at Virginia in a final tuneup for its ACC tournament opener March14. The momentum from slamming North Carolina 96-56 on Feb.22 and Clemson three days later seems lost. And because of the layoff, coach Gary Williams has started allowing players rare days off.
"It seems like a long time," Williams said. "It will seem longer next week."
But Maryland can't let up if it is to have any chance of gaining the No.1 seed in the ACC tournament. No.12 Wake Forest (21-4, 11-3) earned a 80-68 victory over Clemson yesterday, and that means, for Maryland to finish first, it must win out and have N.C.State (15-8, 8-5) upset Wake Forest on March8. Otherwise, Maryland will get the second or third seed and a probable game against Duke in the semifinals after splitting with the Blue Devils during the season.
"It's always around this time when teams either excel or drop," guard Drew Nicholas said. "This is the toughest part of the season because during the ACC and NCAA [tournaments], you're excited. [Now] you're just dragging along, but we're playing our best basketball right now."
Maryland also must prove it can beat a top team away from Comcast Center. Maryland lost at Wake Forest and Duke and suffered neutral site defeats to Indiana and Notre Dame. N.C. State is a bubble team for the NCAA tournament, but its 6-0 ACC home mark is impressive.
"I think we might not have played our best basketball on the road," Williams said, "but we played with the same level of intensity as [home].
Said point guard Steve Blake: "It's fun getting wins at other people's courts, too."
N.C. State likely can ensure an NCAA tournament bid by beating Maryland, Clemson or Wake Forest in the next seven days, considering that only one ACC team with nine regular-season wins hasn't reached the tournament since its expansion to 64 teams. The Wolfpack even could determine who they might meet in the ACC semifinals as the fourth seed by beating Wake Forest or Maryland and dictating which finishes first.
"We don't see ourselves as a spoiler," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "I don't know what it's going to take to get into the NCAAs, but any win helps our cause."
Meanwhile, Williams is seeking his 500th victory. He started coaching at American University in 1978. After recently surpassing Lefty Driesell (122) as Maryland's leader in ACC wins (124), Williams is 20th overall among active coaches.
"I never got into numbers," he said. "I respect guys that know the game, coach the game. … It's great to get 500, but I won't coach to get to a certain number."
Williams cited his early seasons after arriving at Maryland in 1989 as more satisfying than last year's national championship. The Terps received stiff sanctions because of misdeeds by predecessor Bob Wade, and those kept them from appearing in the postseason or on TV when Williams arrived.
"My first four years here, privately I have feelings about those years as maybe … as good a coaching job as I've ever done, counting last year," he said. "You don't win many games in those situations."
Blake said Williams will be spared the traditional Gatorade bath if Maryland beats N.C. State. Players hope to soak him after winning the school's first ACC tournament title since 1984. Williams' fiery courtside demeanor hasn't been extinguished by winning a national crown.
"[Williams] still gets after it as hard as when I got here," Blake said. "I can see him joke around with players here and there, but when it comes down to playing, he's the same coach."

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