One week ago, the University of Maryland basketball team walked into its first unfriendly arena to face a quality team and was swallowed whole. The Terrapins were rattled by West Virginia's press, shot horribly, came apart at the seams and lost by 26.
Today they will get another chance in unfriendly environs when they face Louisiana State at the Assembly Center in Baton Rouge at 2:30 p.m. in a regionally televised (WJLA-7) game.
Meanwhile, Georgetown will be at home at Capital Centre to play St. Leo, and Monmouth will be at Smith Center to play George Washington. The Patriots of George Mason will travel to Radford; American will be at home against Dartmouth.
"We have to play a lot smarter to be competitive down there," said Maryland freshman center Brian Williams, who had 24 points in a 75-59 victory over East Carolina Thursday at Cole Field House.
He shot two for seven from the floor in the loss to West Virginia, but Thursday he set a Maryland record by succeeding on 11 straight shots from the field. He was asked if he had learned anything in the West Virginia loss.
"Yes," he said. "Don't wear a mask."
He had worn a plastic mask over his broken nose and joked that he had felt like Jason, the murderous character in the movie "Friday the 13th."
LSU is 2-0 after easy victories over Nicholls State and Southern in its own invitational tournament. The Tigers, 24-15 last season, are expected to finish in the top half of the Southeastern Conference.
The Terrapins (5-1) are looking at this game as a way to measure themselves.
"It will definitely give us an idea of where we are," Derrick Lewis said. "LSU is a good team, possibly a top 20 team, and we're playing down there."
Said Williams: "It's early, but it does give us an idea where we stand. We're still trying to jell and trying to find out a way to work together to optimum."
The Tigers are also adjusting to new players in new roles.
"We don't have the Wilsons," said LSU assistant coach Ron Abernathy, referring to Anthony and Nikita. "And those were our two big scorers."
Indeed, the Wilsons did play an important role as the Tigers surprised many last season by reaching the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional final in Cincinnati. Had Nikita Wilson's shot gone in and Rick Calloway not scored off Darryl Thomas' air ball, the Tigers would have gone to the Final Four in New Orleans instead of Indiana. And the fact that LSU Coach Dale Brown and Hoosiers Coach Bob Knight don't get along meant the Tigers took no consolation from losing to the eventual champion.
"None at all," Abernathy said. "We want to win. Our kids gave blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul."
Ricky Blanton has returned to the team after missing last season because of knee surgery.
"Blanton is the key," Terrapins Coach Bob Wade said. "He did an excellent job two years ago. And we also have to contend with Vargas."
Jose Vargas, a 6-foot-10 native of the Dominican Republic, is a senior. Although Vargas' responsibilities will depend on the defense Maryland uses, Williams and fellow freshman Cedric Lewis will probably have to guard him.
Abernathy reminds: "Jose is still learning how to play."
LSU still uses its so-called "freak defense," essentially a mix of zone and man-to-man with "visual clues," dictating what set-up to choose.
Wade said he isn't particularly concerned about his team, which is still a ways from jelling and often is confused by the shifting defenses.
"We expect a steady diet of changing defenses," he said. "But it's only one defense or another."
The Hoyas' opponent, St. Leo (3-2) of the Sunshine State Conference in Division II, has lost three starters to injuries.
Earl Williams, St. Leo's second-leading rebounder, broke an ankle Monday. And the leader in assists, Brian Richert, sprained his ankle Monday. St. Leo lost the game. (Leading rebounder Ron Taylor broke an arm at the start of the season.)
"We're going to be hurting a little bit tomorrow," said Coach Jerry Richert. "We want to at least make the game competitive and make a decent showing up here."