- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

The tests start tonight. No. 13 Maryland will begin to learn whether it has the potential for another late-season run when it faces the first of possibly three ranked opponents over the next 10 days.

No. 25 Memphis (4-1) meets the Terps (2-0) tonight in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass. Maryland then visits No. 20 Wisconsin on Tuesday before facing George Mason, and possibly No. 10 Michigan State, in the BB&T; Classic next weekend at MCI Center.

“We’re going after the big boys,” guard D.J. Strawberry said.

Maryland went 2-1 against three ranked teams in a similar 10-day stretch last season, including an overtime victory at No. 1 Florida. The Terps are used to facing ranked teams in the ACC, but nonconference games are both intriguing and unpredictable.

“It’s fun to play the Dukes and North Carolinas,” forward Ekene Ibekwe said, “but it’s also fun to play a top team from another conference. The Wisconsin game last year was real fun.”

Said Strawberry: “We see [ACC teams] at least twice and get a better feel for them. In a one-game series against Memphis and Wisconsin and maybe Michigan State, it’s just who wants the game more.”

The Terps won’t see Comcast Center for 19 days after four easy home victories, including two exhibitions. While three of its next four games are on neutral courts, Maryland must adjust to the stress of hostile fans.

“Last year we didn’t know much about playing on the road,” Strawberry said. “This year, we’re more experienced, more mature. Now we have to be more poised on the road. We can’t be timid, scared to play on the road.”

Maryland still is working on its inside offense. While forward Nik Caner-Medley shined with 21 points in a 93-67 victory over Mercer on Tuesday, forward Travis Garrison and Ibekwe combined for eight points on 3-for-17 shooting. Garrison’s status against Memphis is uncertain after suffering a sprained foot against Mercer.

Fortunately, the Terps’ deep bench provides balance to offset bad nights by individuals. Maryland might even counter with a three-guard scheme that works especially well on defense.

“We can’t all stay at the same level,” coach Gary Williams said. “We need guys to step up. It will happen.”

Caner-Medley quickly is showing the benefits of his first healthy offseason in three years. Weight lifting increased his quickness, enabling the junior to get past defenders.

“It all comes with learning more about the game,” he said. “It comes instinctively when you’ve done it a lot of times.”

The Terps also are showing more cohesiveness with their passing. A year together has given the four juniors and five sophomores more confidence of finding each other on the court.

“The main improvement I see, besides free throws, is guys are seeing the game,” guard John Gilchrist said. “We’re playing smart and it makes the game that much easier. Even if it doesn’t happen on the floor, you see it in the confidence in the players. They’ll be there for you when it’s [crunch] time.”

Maryland pressed defensively the entire game against Mercer to force 28 turnovers. However, Williams prefers saving the high-energy defense for special occasions. He’d rather see the Terps improve in a halfcourt system.

“Pressure is used to change the tempo of games,” Williams said, “but shouldn’t be the reason you play hard.”

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