- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

DENVER — Maryland’s task today in its NCAA tournament second-round game with Syracuse is to solve the Orangemen’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The Terrapins’ defensive assignment is just as straightforward — and just as difficult.

“They look like a two-man team, and they have a lot of role players,” said center Jamar Smith, the Terps’ only senior. “We have to focus on Hakim and McNamara.”

Hakim Warrick, the rangy 6-foot-8 forward, anchors the suffocating zone while averaging 19.6 points with his dominant inside play. Gerry McNamara, who scored a career-high 43 points in Syracuse’s first-round victory over Brigham Young, is capable of breaking open a game as he did in last season’s national championship win over Kansas.

The last two national champions will meet for a right to advance to the Phoenix regional semifinals and a match with the winner of top-seeded Stanford and No.8 Alabama.

The fourth-seeded Terps are seeking a fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, but they appear on shaky ground after struggling to beat Texas-El Paso 86-83 Thursday.

Fifth-seed Syracuse (22-7) would prefer a moderate pace and more of a halfcourt game to neutralize the Terps’ quickness and depth. That would allow the Orangemen’s motion offense to eat minutes off the clock and set screens for McNamara while their 2-3 match-up zone tries to break Maryland’s rhythm.

“Pushing the team [upcourt] is very important because they aren’t going to be able to get back and set up into the zone,” said Terps point guard John Gilchrist, who continued his strong late-season run with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists against UTEP. “[The zone] definitely works well for them because they have a lot of tall guys that are long. They pack it in real well so they can rebound.”

The Terps (20-11) will need to be patient and hit some outside shots to force Syracuse to change strategy. Maryland struggled with its perimeter game much of the season before its current season-high six-game winning streak. Gilchrist, shooting guard Chris McCray and perhaps reserve Mike Jones will be asked to break the zone.

With only one day between games, Maryland might find it hard to adequately prepare for Syracuse’s widely praised defense. The Terps worked on attacking the zone during a 90-minute practice yesterday at Pepsi Center.

“It’s your basic 2-3, but it’s their base defense and that’s why they are really good at it,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who saw plenty of the zone when his Boston College teams faced Syracuse in the Big East. “They make you take shots that maybe you think are good shots, but by the time you take them they are not because they get you covered. The other thing is, they help as well out of their zone. They trap out of their zone.”

Making perimeter shots would allow Gilchrist to drive and get big men like Smith and Travis Garrison involved. If the Terps struggle from the outside, Syracuse would be able to slow the game down to its desired pace.

“You have to make outside shots to make defenses respect you,” said McCray, who had 19 points and made three of four 3-pointers against UTEP. “That’s when the inside game starts opening up, and that’s when you can start to penetrate.”

Offensively, Syracuse’s key remains McNamara, who made nine of 13 3-pointers against BYU. The 6-foot-2 sophomore is a master at coming off screens and firing in a hurry.

“You have to know where he is all the time, whether it is in transition or in the halfcourt,” said McCray, who figures to split time covering McNamara with D.J. Strawberry.

The Terps hope McNamara’s career night was just that. He routinely launches from 25 feet, averages 17.1 points and is a 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc.

“Once he gives up the ball, you have to make him work to get it back,” said Strawberry, who appears fully recovered from a sprained ankle. “I think that’s a key. He plays a lot of minutes, and if you make him work he might get a little tired down the stretch.”

Limiting McNamara also would allow more defensive help on Warrick, who figures to be matched against Smith. Smith usually has an athletic advantage over opposing big men, but Warrick provides particular trouble because of his quickness and leaping ability.

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