If more Atlantic Coast Conference games were like this, Lefty Driesell might still have a full head of hair. There were still three minutes left in Maryland's 71-58 romp over Virginia last night when Driesell took Len Bias out of the game.
Usually, with three minutes left in an ACC game, Driesell is fretting anxiously and demanding that his players get the ball to Bias.
Not last night. Driesell and Bias spent those final moments lounging on the bench. To the 14,500 in Cole Field House, that was a signal to head for the exits.
It wasn't that the Cavaliers didn't try. They packed their zone around Bias and stayed close, trailing by just 24-23 at the half. They ran their offense patiently.
But they simply didn't have enough weapons or energy. If they were going to deny Bias his shots, that meant Adrian Branch was going to get his. He did, scoring a career-high 30 points. Many of them came on neat passes from Keith Gatlin, who had a school-record 13 assists.
Even with Virginia playing what often looked like a six-man zone around him, Bias still had 19 points as the 17th-ranked Terrapins raised their ACC-leading record to 4-1 and their overall mark to 17-5. Last-place Virginia, which got 12 points from flu-ridden Olden Polynice, fell to 10-10, 1-7 in the league.
"We just ran out of gas," said assistant coach Jim Larranaga, running the team as Coach Terry Holland missed his fourth straight game due to an intestinal ailment. "Against Arkansas Sunday, I remember looking in our kids' faces during a timeout and knowing they were listening and emotionally into the game. Tonight, during a timeout, I looked at them and I could see they were completely drained. We were trying, but all we had left was fumes."
Even on a full tank, Virginia might have had trouble.
"We've learned that if one thing isn't there just to be patient and look for something else," said Gatlin. "We know if they collapse on Lenny, then Adrian's going to get his shot. Something will be there. You just can't stop both of them."
Last night, Branch and Bias got help from Speedy Jones early in the second half. That was enough to turn them loose for the run that put the game away.
Jones, who finished with 10 points, was moved to the wing at halftime by Driesell, who stomped off the court at intermission after watching his team carelessly turn a 24-15 lead with 4:10 left into a 24-23 margin.
"We were letting them do what they wanted to do, slow it down and pack in their zone," Driesell said. "I wanted to try some things in the first half, trap and press to get an up tempo but that didn't work very well. In the second half, we just played solid."
Very solid. Jones quickly hit three jumpers in the early going and that opened things up just enough for Branch and Bias. From 36-32 with 13:23 left, the Terrapins burst to a 57-42 lead with 3:37 to go. During that stretch, Branch and Bias scored 19 of the team's 21 points.
"I was surprised the way they came out in the second half," Bias said. "After they cut it to 24-23, I thought they'd be really intense. Instead, they just sort of came out and said, 'Let's play.' It was strange."
Virginia's only chance would have been if the entire 40 minutes had been like the first 20: walk-it-up basketball, long possessions, no fast breaks. Having cut the lead to one, the Cavaliers were hoping to get ahead at the start of the second half. "If we did that, we might have been able to frustrate them a little," Larranaga said.
Instead, it was Larranaga who ended up frustrated. On the opening possession of the half, the Cavaliers ran a set play. But two players went to the wrong spots and Virginia was called for a three-second violation. It never again had a chance to lead.
Maryland began looking for shots more quickly, moving the ball better against the zone and, most important, finding a very hot Branch.
"I'm comfortable taking those shots when they try to take things away from Lenny," Branch said. "I felt good tonight from the beginning because I saw that I was going to be going one-on-one with my man. When that happens, I feel like I'm going to get good shots."
Branch got Maryland going with a drive to the hoop that made it 38-32 with 12:55 left. Then, after an air ball by Polynice, he hit from 18 feet over the zone. Bias was next, hitting a short turnaround eight-footer and a free throw. Then they took turns: Branch hit from 17 feet, Bias from 14. Bias hit two foul shots and Branch dunked off a gorgeous transition pass from Gatlin.
The last basket of the sequence summed up the Cavaliers' frustration. Branch missed a free throw and Jones rebounded. Bias missed an alley oop, Jones rebounded again. Branch threw a bad pass, Virginia's John Johnson intercepted and promptly threw the ball right back to Branch, who laid it in for a 57-42 lead.
"If they stop me, they can't stop Adrian," said Bias, explaining best how tough it is to play Maryland right now. "If I score 30 points (as he did against Villanova Sunday) and they put three men on me, he'll score 30 points."
He paused and smiled. "We're a pretty tough combination."
And right now, Maryland is a pretty good team.