Early this week, Albert King was talking about the impending end his college basketball career.
"I've thought about it a lot," he said. "I really want to do something special in the tournament. In my four years here the only team goal I've been part of achieving was last year's ACC regular-season championship.
"I don't want to finish that way. The NCAAs are my last chance."
Saturday, King and Maryland will face the first major roadblock in this last chance for redemption. The Terps will play Big Ten champion Indiana here at about 3:45 p.m. (WRCE-TV-4), the tipoff coming 30 minutes after the conclusion of the other second-round game, between top-ranked De Paul and St. Joseph's. That game is scheduled to begin at 1:23 p.m.
As Coach Lefty Driesell pointed out today, there is nothing mysterious about playing Indiana. The Hoosiers play man-to-man defense for 40 minutes, help each other out constantly and will make the Terps play a physical, half-court kind of game.
If the 18th-ranked Terrapins (21-9) are to upset the nintgh-ranked Hoosiers (21-9), several things mujst happen: Reggie Jackson must control IU's star guard, Isiah Thomas. "If I can hold him to 15 points," Jackson said, "we can win." Thomas is averaging 15.7 points and 4.9 assists a game but plays above those statistics in big games.
In addiiton, the Terps must have a good game on the boards because the Hoosiers, with Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner, are an excellent rebounding team. They are also nine players deep, which means stamina will be a factor.
Most important, though, is King. As Driesell said earlier this season, for this team to be great, King must be great. It is significant that in the Terps' nine losses this season, King averaged 14.7 points, scoring 20 only once. Thursday, in the opening-round, 81-69 victory over Tennessee-Chattanooga, King was superb, scoring 25 points and turning the game around by taking it upon himself to move down low in the second half when the game was still close.
Indiana Coach Bob Knight may start the 6-foot-9 Tolbert on King to try to force him outside. Or he might put the quicker but smaller Randy Wittman on him. Either way, the Terps must look for King and he must want the ball if Maryland is going to win.
The Hoosiers, who won their sixth Big Ten title in Knight's 10 years as coach, have won their last five games and 10 of their last 12. The keys, other than Thomas, have been Tolbert and Turner.
Tolbert, the Big Ten MVP according to Knight, has been consistent all season, shooting 58 percent from the floor while averaging 11.9 points and 6.2 rebounds. By contrast, Turner was benched for much of January, scoring a total of four points in eight games. But, after a talk with Knight during which the coach told him he was to shoot only from certain spots on the floor, Turner averaged 16 points a night during the last six games of the regular season.
The coaches praised each other today, kidding about game plans. When Driesell talked about the advantage of using only one defense, Knight said he hd been working his team in a 2-3 zone, a triangle and two, and a 1-3-1 zone trap in practice all week, but couldn't make up his mind which to use in the game.
No Knight team has ever played zone defense and it isn't expected to Saturday. Knight joined the coaches who have risen to defend Driesell during this tumultuous season.
"I've probably seen Lefty's teams play more than anyone in this room and all I know is, they've been damn good for a long time," Knight said. "His teams play like their coach. They're tough and they play hard and they're hard to play against.
"I remember hearing Lefty say at a clinic years ago that all he does is try to do things right and work as hard as he can because if 'my players know I'm working hard it's easier for them to work hard.'"
Later, Knight added: "People look at his talent and say he should always win. They forget, he hasn't cornered the market on talent. Other teams have lots of good players, too. Just to get this far, you've eliminated 80 percent of the teams. People forget those that have been eliminated; they only remember the game you lose."
If the Terps have an advantage going into the game, it is that they are underdogs. A year ago, as underdogs, they were superb. This year, favored in virtually every game, they have been inconsistent.
"I like being the underdog," Driesell said. "That way if we don't win people won't say it was coaching. And if we do win, it helps my coaching image, which isn't very good."
Thursday, when someone asked him how he felt about breaking John Lucas' Maryland scoring record, King answered in almost a whisper.
"It's nice," he said. "But I would trade it and every other record I have to make the final tour."