Faced with its biggest nonconference home game in Coach Gary Williams's 11 seasons, 21st-ranked Maryland put together its best performance of the season last night. With preseason all-American forward Terence Morris leading the way with a game-high 22 points, the Terrapins never trailed and defeated No. 23 Kentucky, 72-66, before a raucous capacity crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House.
Freshman point guard Steve Blake, who had struggled in the Terrapins' past two games, added a career-high 16 points and four steals while forward Danny Miller played strong defense against Kentucky's best player, sophomore forward Tayshaun Prince.
It was Maryland's first victory over Kentucky in the teams' past six meetings. The Terps last beat Kentucky on Dec. 9, 1957. It also was Maryland's 69th consecutive nonconference home victory, but first over a ranked opponent during that stretch.
"That was a great win for us, obviously," Williams said. "When you say Kentucky, they have it on their press guide, 'Team of the Century' and they're right. . . . It's a heck of a night for us."
With a splendid all-around effort, Maryland (8-2) was able to overcome subpar nights from center Lonny Baxter, who fouled out with six points in 17 minutes, and Juan Dixon, who made 5 of 17 shots. Perhaps no one played harder than Miller, who made just 1 of 8 shots for a season-low two points, but was in Prince's face at almost every opportunity.
Prince, who had a career-high 21 points in Kentucky's 61-58 victory over Maryland on Nov. 24, struggled to get involved in the offense and took just three shots, making one, in the game's first 27 minutes.
"I really tried to get up in there and make him as uncomfortable as possible," Miller said.
Because it was the teams' third meeting in one calendar year, each team was familiar with the other. Every time Maryland ran an offensive play, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith yelled advice to his players. Maryland also adjusted, backing off its pressure defense to play mostly man-to-man in a half-court set. Offensively, the Terrapins tried to run everything through Morris, whether he was posting up on the inside or spotting up on the outside.
Morris made 8 of 11 shots and had nine rebounds and four assists, consistently finding the open man when Kentucky tried to double-team him.
Meantime, Blake was all over Kentucky point guard Saul Smith on the defensive end. He had four steals in the first half, three times taking the ball away from Smith, who had five turnovers in the half and six in the game. Offensively, Blake played with poise and confidence, making 5 of 9 shots and consistently getting Maryland into its offensive sets.
In the teams' first meeting, Maryland never led. Last night, it led almost from the opening tip as Morris scored the Terrapins' first seven points and Maryland built its lead to 11 points midway through the second half.
Kentucky (4-4) got to 65-63 by scoring six consecutive points with just more than one minute left. But Blake got an uncontested layup on the ensuing inbounds play and Maryland had some breathing room.
"This is my Christmas present," said reserve freshman guard Drew Nicholas, who had seven points. "My mother doesn't need to put anything under the tree."
The Terrapins were brilliant in the first half. Morris, who had been passive for much of the season's first nine games, was aggressive from the outset, taking--and making--the Terrapins' first three shots.
Meantime, Miller stayed as close as possible to Prince on almost every possession. By the second half, Prince's frustration became evident as he tried to do things single-handedly. He finished with 14 points.
After jumping to its early lead, Maryland forged a nine-point lead. After a steal by Miller, Dixon missed a layup but Morris was there for a two-handed dunk. Then Blake stole the ball from Smith, pushed the ball upcourt and fed Baxter for a layup. Later, Miller made a steal and drove the length of the court. When he got into the paint, he used a behind-the-back dribble to elude Smith and fed Dixon for a layup that made it 16-7.
Three times Kentucky closed to within two, but Maryland responded each time. The Terrapins used a three-point play by Morris and a three-pointer by Blake to take a 34-27 halftime lead.
Terrapins Notes: Reggie Evans, a sophomore at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, made an official visit this weekend. . . . Maryland had just six turnovers in the second half. . . . Williams is 200-120 at Maryland. . . . Because of semester exams, Maryland does not play again until Dec. 27 against George Mason at Cole Field House.