Maryland basketball's latest goal: Win one at Virginia

"We're more focused," says Maryland's Sean Mosley, here celebrating after a big shot against Duke. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Maryland men's basketball team has spent the past two months atoning for past slip-ups. Some of the missteps occurred in recent seasons; others took place early in this campaign. Regardless, the Terrapins have proven capable of ridding each sour memory from their collective psyche.

On Saturday, No. 22 Maryland (22-7, 12-3) will travel to Charlottesville to face Virginia (14-14, 5-10) in its final game before next week's ACC tournament. With a win over the Cavaliers, the Terrapins will claim at least a share of the ACC regular season championship. But a victory also would allow Maryland to complete its list, to toss aside one more demon.

"I think this is definitely the most momentum we've had" at the end of a regular season, senior guard Eric Hayes said Wednesday night after Maryland defeated No. 4 Duke, 79-72. "We've got a huge game at Virginia. I don't think I've won there in my career, so it's going to be a tough game for us on the road. It's their senior night, and we've just got to get that one."

The Terrapins have not won in Charlottesville since 2006, losing three straight games on Virginia's home court. In last year's regular season finale, Maryland blew a 13-point first-half lead after struggling to handle Virginia's switch to a zone defense. But both teams are far removed from the ones that took the floor that day, and the circumstances surrounding Saturday's contest are starkly different.

Riding a six-game winning streak, Maryland has the security of knowing it has secured an NCAA tournament bid and will be seeded no lower than No. 2 in the ACC tournament. Should Duke lose at home to North Carolina on Saturday night, the Terrapins could claim the conference regular season championship outright with a victory over the Cavaliers.

Virginia, on the other hand, has faltered mightily since starting 5-2 in ACC play. The Cavaliers have dropped eight consecutive games and are playing without their best player healthy. Sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg recently suffered a thigh injury that forced him to miss Sunday's loss to Duke. Landesberg played Wednesday in a loss at Boston College, tallying 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting in 36 minutes. He acknowledged afterward he was not at full strength.

Defeating the Cavaliers has not been an issue for Maryland at Comcast Center. Rather, the challenge has been finding a blueprint for success at Virginia. But given the Terrapins' aptitude this season for correcting previous mistakes, Saturday would seem to be as good a time as any to change their fortunes at John Paul Jones Arena.

"Virginia, they just wanted it more than us last year, and we came out not really focused," sophomore guard Sean Mosley said Friday. "We came out flat. Trying to come back from being down at Virginia was kind of tough. Senior night for them, too, so they're probably jacked up more so than we are, but this year is kind of different. We're more focused, and you know, as a team we show a lot of maturity out there on the court."

Last season, Maryland let an 11-point halftime lead slip away at home against Boston College, and after defeating the Eagles on the road by 16 on Jan. 16, Maryland Coach Gary Williams said last year's collapse had been on his mind. The Terrapins also surrendered a double-digit lead at Miami last season, losing by two points. And again, when Maryland pounded the Hurricanes by 22 points on Jan. 26, Williams acknowledged last season's game against the Hurricanes.

The Terrapins lost by nine at Clemson on Jan. 31 after tallying 26 turnovers. Three weeks later, Maryland tallied just 10 turnovers in a nine-point win over the Tigers at Comcast Center. The Terrapins also won at Virginia Tech for the first time ever and capped an undefeated home ACC record by beating the Blue Devils on Wednesday -- three weeks after losing at Duke by 21.

"That's our job as a team is to realize that you have to complete a season," Williams said Friday. "You have to complete a regular season. You can't prepare for 15 games and not prepare for 16 games, so that's what we have to do."

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