By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Nov. 19 -- If three lackluster victories against middling competition were not enough to get the attention of Maryland players, Monday night's loss against second-ranked UCLA offered a blunt early-season assessment for the young team to absorb.
Led by its defense and rebounding, the Bruins were never seriously challenged in a 71-59 victory in the semifinals of the CBE Classic. But Maryland players left the Sprint Center encouraged after a better offensive performance in the second half that helped cut a 20-point deficit to eight against one of the nation's premier defensive teams.
"I don't think it is the best we've played, but I think it's the best effort we have given," Maryland senior James Gist said. "We're so close to being so good and it's just a matter of time. It's going to be soon."
In Tuesday night's consolation game, Maryland (3-1) will play the loser of Monday's other semifinal that matched No. 10 Michigan State against Missouri.
If there was a turning point Monday night, it was a sequence that began in the final minute of the first half and extended into the second half. That's when celebrated UCLA freshman Kevin Love took control of the game with his 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame.
Love, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds, scored on a tip-in to put the Bruins up 10 points as time expired in the first half. On UCLA's first two possessions of the second half, Love scored two more tip-in baskets to extend the lead to 14. The turn of events epitomized Maryland's problems throughout.
"Rebounding a lot of times is effort; it's not technique," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "We have to get to the glass more."
UCLA (4-0) dominated the rebounding battle, 44-29, and had almost as many offensive rebounds (19) as Maryland had defensive rebounds (21). Only one Maryland player, Greivis Vasquez, had as many as six rebounds, and Vasquez plays in the back court.
Maryland's starting front court of Gist, who made 3 of 11 shots, and Bambale Osby fouled out and had trouble contending with Love, whose addition to the Bruins could make them more formidable than the teams that reached the Final Four the past two years.
"He is a big dude," said Osby, who had only one rebound. "He had those two offensive rebounds to start the second half; we can't give that [garbage] up. We killed ourselves by not defensive rebounding."
Even without point guard Darren Collison, who is out because of a knee injury, UCLA effectively used its aggressive man-to-man defense to frazzle Maryland throughout. The Terrapins' guards were pressured almost to the half-court line. Maryland's big men rarely got a clear look at the basket against UCLA's deep front-court lineup.
"To win shooting 37 percent says a lot about our defense," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
The Terrapins, who committed 14 of their 21 turnovers in the first half, also had their share of unforced errors. Freshman Adrian Bowie dribbled the ball off his leg. Landon Milbourne stepped out of bounds and then made another blunder that got him pulled from the game. Eric Hayes flipped a pass that ricocheted off Osby's leg.
After Gist missed a shot from close range, Williams simply put both hands over his face. Maryland went more than five minutes late in the first half without scoring a point.
Maryland scored just two points over the game's first seven minutes -- on a resounding dunk by Gist -- and that basket came during a broken offensive sequence. The Terrapins' first three possessions resulted in bad misses by Gist and Osby and a charging call on Vasquez.
"We couldn't shoot early," Williams said. "I'm not sure if we were a little nervous. I think we responded after that. We ran better offense as the game went on."
Vasquez, who scored a game-high 19 points, was not overly impressed with UCLA's defense and attributed Maryland's 33 percent shooting in the first half to rushing shots and missing layups. Maryland shot 45.2 percent in the second half.
Osby felt the team learned a tremendous amount from its first loss, adding: "We figured out we can play with top teams. They did not come out and just blow us out the gym."