Moments after Maryland had beaten Hawaii, 79-71, Thursday night to advance to the final of the Rainbow Classic, forward Len Bias was asked how he would feel if his team cracked the top 20 next week.
"I would feel," Bias answered, "as if it's about time."
Tonight, the Terrapins had an excellent chance to earn some of the notoriety they feel they deserve after a 10-1 start against the toughest December schedule since Lefty Driesell became coach in 1969. In the final (1:45 a.m. EST Saturday tip-off) they met 10th-ranked Georgia Tech, a 65-58 winner over No. 11 Washington in Thursday's other semifinal.
"I don't care who we play. I'm just glad we're in the final," Driesell said. "We've won two games here; I want to win three."
Do not let the seemingly casual Driesell fool you. He is beginning to suspect that this team might be similar to his 1980 team, one that was picked sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and finished first. Against Hawaii, Driesell was up and down the bench all game, executing a remarkable, twisting double-stomp when Bias was called for hanging on the rim on a dunk.
"I didn't know if he was stomping because I got the technical or because they called the technical," said Bias, who had 15 points for the game. "That was the worst he's been this season, though. I guess the refs called it because they'd never seen a dunk like that before."
Bias could afford to be jocular. After a number of narrow escapes, the Terrapins handled Hawaii with relative ease. Although the Rainbows hung tough for a half, trailing, 41-38, they were outrebounded, 38-27, as Maryland blew to a 70-57 lead with 5:22 left and coasted home.
As usual, Bias and Adrian Branch (21 points on nine-of-14 shooting) did a lot of the work. But this was a game in which Derrick Lewis and Speedy Jones stepped into the limelight.
Each had career scoring highs, Lewis with 15 points, Jones with 13. Lewis also had 12 rebounds and five blocks in a superb all-round performance and Jones added nine rebounds and four assists. Before the Hawaii game, Lewis had as many blocks (40) as points.
He had made only 15 of 46 shots from the field and 10 of 20 from the foul line. But against the Rainbows, Lewis was an offensive factor from the start, even after his first shot, a 15-foot jumper, was an air ball.
"Coach had told me to look for my shot more, so I did right away," said Lewis, who is playing much better than might be expected of a 6-foot-7 freshman forced to playing center. "When I missed that first one so badly I thought, 'Here we go again, another one-for-four night.' But then I made the next one and it gave me confidence. I was more aggressive after that."
Lewis' defensive aggressiveness is a major reason for this team's success. If he consistently adds some offense, the Terrapins can be very good.
The only negative note from the Hawaii game was that guard Keith Gatlin's still was bothered by a sprained big left toe. After Gatlin hobbled around in warmups, Driesell decided against starting him, going with Jeff Adkins, the hero of the Iowa game earlier in the week.
But three minutes into the game, Gatlin, who had thought he might get the night off, was in. "I had it in ice all day and it felt fine but when I put my shoe on it rubbed up against it and I was kind of hopping," Gatlin said.
Gatlin went quite well for the 15 minutes he played. He made all three shots and handed out four assists, including two on nice alley-oops -- one to Bias, one to Jones early in the second half. But the foot got stepped on again with 15:55 left and Gatlin hobbled off, through for the night.
"If it's like this for Georgia Tech, they might cut a hole in my shoe so it won't hurt," Gatlin said. "I don't want to push it, though, because we have N.C. State Wednesday (in the league opener) and that game's more important than this one."
Tell that to Driesell, who has a 2-5 record in three seasons against Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins. The Yellow Jackets have dealt the Terrapins some of their toughest defeats in recent seasons. Three of the losses were in overtime, including one in double overtime last season.
Tech (8-1) needed some luck to reach the final. The Yellow Jackets trailed Washington by 56-51 with a little more than four minutes left. They came back to lead, 57-56, then needed a missed call by an offical to hang on.
The key call came with 33 seconds left. Leading by one, Tech had run down the 45-second clock to eight seconds. Mark Price, who scored 20 points, started a drive down the middle but Washington's Clay Damon slapped the ball loose. He would have gone in for a layup if he hadn't been called for fouling Price.
"It was a good call," Cremins said, suppressing a grin. "A real good call for us."
Price took advantage, making both free throws, and Washington didn't score again until just before the buzzer. The victory, Tech's second in two nights against a major opponent (it beat Arkansas in the first round), set up an all-ACC final.
"It'll give both teams a chance to find out how far we've come this season," Georgia Tech guard Bruce Dalrymple said. "It's on a neutral court, we've both played some tough games to get here and now we'll find out who is stronger right now."
To the strong will go a high national ranking, a good deal of attention and raised expectations going into conference play next week.
"Come to think of it," Bias said, "I'm not sure I want us to be ranked. So far this season, we're doing fine as the underdog."