Tonight's ACC contest between Maryland and Virginia is shaping up as a battle between talent and emotion. The Cavaliers, ranked 14th in the nation and returning all five starters from last season, would seem to have a decided edge over a Terrapins squad depleted by the loss of point guard Walt Williams. Williams, who leads Maryland in scoring, assists and steals and is third in rebounding, will be missing his first game after fracturing the fibula in his left leg during Saturday's 94-78 loss to Duke.
Swingman Vince Broadnax, who has started five games this season, will replace Williams in the starting lineup. Kevin McLinton, who has played on the wing in what has effectively been a three-guard offense, will take over the bulk of the ballhandling.
Where Maryland (8-6, 1-3) will pick up the 20.3 points Williams averaged is another question. Matt Roe (15.3 points) and Cedric Lewis (11 points) are the obvious choices to increase their output but Coach Gary Williams feels his team might be better served by concentrating on what it does with the ball.
"We have to do the things we're capable of doing; we're only shooting 37 percent from the field in the ACC -- that's not good enough," Williams said. "If you make eight or 10 passes when you have the ball instead of three or four, then you'll get a good shot. Vince Broadnax can hit a 15-foot jump shot; he hasn't been taking them but he can hit them."
Walt Williams sat out the final 12:27 of Saturday's game but instead of falling apart, Maryland effectively took the fight to the No. 12 Blue Devils. Using a lineup that at times included just two players taller than 6-foot-3, the Terrapins fell behind 72-52, but rallied to outscore Duke, 26-22, in the final 10 minutes.
"We're going to be tested the next couple of weeks, the coaches and players," said Roe. "There will be trying times for everyone but if Duke was any indication, there's hope. I honestly feel we outplayed them in the second half."
The encouraging spurt was fostered by a pressing defense that seemed to stun Duke. Virginia, perhaps a more poised team than the youngish Blue Devils, won't rattle as easily; also, Maryland might not be able to play with such reckless abandon, given its lack of an exprienced player to call upon in the event of foul trouble.
Even so, there has been a sense of optimism during practice the last two days with the players eager to prove they can achieve without Walt Williams. That was the case against Duke but Gary Williams is wondering how long that will last.
"You don't know how far emotion will carry you," he said. "We played pretty well in the second half against Duke but now we'll see what happens when you have to play a full game against a team ranked in the top 15 and both teams know that Walt won't be there.
"You're talking about adjusting to playing without a guy who's one of the best players in the conference -- that adjustment won't be completed" tonight.
Roe is the player most under the gun. After sitting out last season following his transfer from Syracuse, the senior was making the adjustment back into competitive, big-time basketball while being asked to do far more things than with the Orangemen. That has been a struggle at times, as evidenced by Roe's overall field goal mark of 40 percent, 36 in the ACC. Now he may be needed to carry the Terrapins' scoring load.
"It's overdue," he said of increasing his offense. "Everything I transfered for -- improving my floor game, rebounding and defense, going to the basket aggressively -- I'm happy with, but the one thing I'm known for -- shooting -- I'm not doing at all. It's totally ridiculous."
Virginia (10-3, 2-1) is coming off an 89-86 double overtime loss to No. 5 North Carolina. Under first-year coach Jeff Jones, the Cavaliers are led by all-ACC forward Bryant Stith, averaging 21.6 points a game, and guard John Crotty, averaging 17 points and almost seven assists.