This is the big goodbye scene and Maryland's happy ending depends on it, so swell the music and somebody say something touching.
Charles G. Driesell's favorite line through Maryland's five-game losing streak was "it's just one game." But the Terrapins, having finally won one, travel to Villanova today, and even Driesell abandoned the rhetoric for this all-important road trip, which includes a meeting with 14th-ranked Notre Dame on Monday.
"If we're going to get an NCAA bid, we've got to beat Villanova," Driesell said. "It would be a big, big win. I'm not even looking at Notre Dame yet. I can't afford to."
The Terrapins (11-8 overall, 1-6 in the ACC) have 10 regular-season games remaining and are at the halfway mark in conference play. Their meeting with the Wildcats (14-9 overall, 5-3 in the Big East) in the inaugural game at the John E. DuPont Pavilion (3 p.m.) would seem to be a good time for some resurgence.
Maryland's 77-55 victory over last-place Wake Forest Tuesday gave the Terrapins their first conference victory but wasn't much of an indication as to whether they are capable of regrouping for a strong finish. Meeting Villanova, the defending national champion and another tough team with a relentless schedule, will answer many questions.
"The schedule doesn't get any easier from here, it would help our confidence, it would just help everything," Driesell said.
So if there is an emotional edge to the game, it probably belongs to the Terrapins. The last meeting between the teams came in the semifinals of the Southeast Regional of the NCAA tournament, with the Wildcats winning, 46-43, on their way to the national title. In their only other meeting, Maryland won, 77-74, last year at Cole Field House.
This year's Villanova team has much in common with Maryland. The Wildcats are a forward-oriented team that has had problems with changing lineups and a lack of continuity, particularly at center. They have used 12 starting combinations in their 23 games, but in the last two games have settled on three forwards starting in a combination of defensive schemes, using a lot of triangle and two.
Harold Pressley, the 6-7 forward, is the leading scorer, averaging 16.4 points, and probably will be guarded by Maryland's Derrick Lewis. The rest of the front court is made up of 6-6 freshman Doug West, averaging 10.4, and 6-7 Mark Plansky. In the back court, Harold Jensen averages 10.4 and Dwight Wilbur 7.3.
The Wildcats are coming off an 81-61 loss to St. John's. But that score was deceiving; they came as close as 61-57 before St. John's turned it into a blowout. And Maryland's victory over Wake Forest is not particularly significant, since the Demon Deacons have lost five players to various injuries and personal troubles.
"Truthfully, Wake had a lot of injuries and problems," Driesell said. "Villanova is like us -- they started slow and they've used a bunch of different combinations, but they've settled down. And they're national champions. You can't overlook that."
Maryland finally seems settled on a starting lineup after 10 changes. Len Bias and Lewis are the only players to have held their positions all 19 games. The starting back court from now on is expected to be Jeff Baxter and Keith Gatlin, with freshman John Johnson off the bench. Terry Long and freshman Tony Massenburg will alternate at center, Long probably being used as the starter.
"Every game from here on out we have to win," Long said. "Especially the ones on the road."
In other local games, Navy will play UNC-Wilmington at Halsey Field House (3 p.m.). The Midshipmen (15-4, 6-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) have the distinct edge, having won 11 straight at home. But the game will have an intriguing matchup of two strong conference centers. Navy's sensational 6-11 David Robinson averages 21.8 points and continues to lead the nation in blocked shots, with six a game; Wilmington's 6-9 Brian Rowsom averages 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds.
George Mason will play host to James Madison at Patriot Center (8 p.m.) in another important CAA meeting. The Patriots (10-9, 4-3) will be trying to break out of the middle of the pack against the Dukes (4-14, 2-5), which seems likely since they have won the last three in the series. With freshman Kenny Sanders averaging 16.7 points and Rob Rose scoring 16.3 a game, the Patriots are potentially upwardly mobile.
American's struggles in the CAA appear to continue with East Carolina visiting Fort Myer (7:30 p.m.). The Pirates (9-9, 4-3) have won two straight in conference play and defeated the Eagles (7-11, 1-6), 70-62, on Jan. 4.
George Washington enters the second half of Atlantic 10 play by playing host to Rhode Island at Smith Center (7:30 p.m.) in a meeting of struggling teams. The Colonials (7-11, 2-7) lost a previous meeting this season, 77-63, but the Rams (6-12, 2-7) have since lost six straight games.
The area's most successful team continues to be Howard, which travels to Bethune-Cookman's Moore Gym (8 p.m.). The Bison (11-5, 5-0 in the MEAC) have won nine straight, and that alone makes the mediocre Wildcats (5-14, 4-5) a decided underdog.
*Gallaudet 79, Richard Bland 48: In Petersburg, Va., David Hamilton had 15 points and eight assists, and Mike Stultz made 10 of 13 shots from the floor and scored 23 points as visiting Gallaudet (8-9) won its fourth in a row. Mike Thomas scored 16 points for Bland (6-11).
*Washington Bible 88, Northeastern Bible 57: The inside play of Don Heindel (18 points), Bill Fletcher (16) and Dave Snyder (15) helped visiting Washington Bible (3-14) dominate the Essex Fells, N.J., school. Tom Stewart led Northeastern (13-14) with 20 points.
*Mont.-Takoma Park 88, Mont.-Germantown 67: Claude Hodge scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half as Takoma Park (12-3) pulled away from a 34-34 halftime tie. Jim Andrakokos led visiting Germantown (3-15) with 29 points.
*N.C. Central 86, Bowie St. 67: Willie Jennette had 33 points and 12 rebounds, and Thomas Daniels had 15 points to lead North Carolina Central (9-10, 7-6) to a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association victory in Durham, N.C. Bowie State, led by Vincent Sewell's 18 points, is 1-16 and 1-11.