- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams perused the final stats moments after the Terrapins handled Bryant on Saturday. He knew precisely what he would find.

Rebounding, always a potential bugaboo for the smallish Terps, emerged as a problem that afternoon with an even split of the boards against an undermanned opponent. The 21-point victory hardly mattered after Williams witnessed the lethargic performance.

“We’re not going after the ball hard enough,” he said. “There’s drills you can do, but that’s a personal pride thing. You can’t let somebody outrebound you if you’re supposed to be a good rebounder. … If you don’t play hard, you’ll get exposed, which isn’t all bad at this time of year.”

If there was anything salvageable about breaking even against a team that in 10 previous outings had been throttled by an average of more than 11 rebounds, it was the point on the schedule it occurred. There is time for tinkering in late December before the conference schedule begins in earnest, chances to correct budding issues before they smolder into something far larger.

So it comes as little surprise that Williams and the Terps (9-2) will keep a watchful eye on the rebounding totals when Elon (4-4) visits Comcast Center on Tuesday night.

“It’s something huge,” forward Dave Neal said. “[Williams] presses on it every day in practice, and all throughout the game [Saturday] he was pressing on it. When we get into ACC play, we’re going to have to rebound, and we’re going to have to outrebound teams if we want to win. It’s something we have to take on as a challenge.”

Maryland ranks last in the ACC with its plus-1.6 rebounding margin, built mostly by picking on opponents its own size - and smaller. That will change next week, when the Terps begin their league schedule against Georgia Tech, the first in a succession of foes with a formidable frontcourt presence. There will be far less wiggle room for Maryland, which could find itself yielding crucial second-chance points.

There is a chance some of it is a matter of fundamentals, and perhaps the uneven timing of Saturday’s game - just two days after Christmas - contributed to the struggles. So too did Bryant’s reliance on a matchup zone. Nonetheless, Williams identified a serious problem.

“We have too many guys rebounding with one hand,” he said. “They’re trying to bring the ball down, and it gets scraped and gets loose. We have to be tougher on the glass in the future.”

Toughness will take the Terps only so far. It is no secret Maryland is fielding a small team; the absence of Jerome Burney leaves the Terps with no one in their rotation taller than 6-foot-8. Guard Greivis Vasquez at least has shared the team rebounding lead in seven games - a revealing number since Maryland’s frontcourt rotation, including swingman-turned-power forward Landon Milbourne, has combined to do so just as many times.

“We just need some people to step up and dominate on the glass,” Williams said. “If you look at our rebounding, you see five, five, six, five. Nobody has 10.”

That has happened only twice this season - Vasquez’s double-digit performances against Michigan and George Washington earlier this month. Given the roster composition, it might not occur much more often in the coming months.

“It’s a concern because with our size we need everybody,” Milbourne said. “We can’t depend on one or two guys to get in there and get all the rebounds. It hasn’t happened like that so far, so everybody has to participate.”

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