With campus nearly deserted for the holiday break and his team coming off a 15-day stretch without a game, Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams wants just one thing from his team tonight when it plays George Mason at Cole Field House.
"We have to have the attitude that we are going to play hard," Williams said between his team's two practice sessions yesterday. He also attended yesterday's Washington Wizards-Houston Rockets game at MCI Center to see former Maryland guards Steve Francis and Walt Williams, forward Laron Profit and center Tony Massenburg.
"I think we have done a good job of that so far. . . . If we don't play hard, then it is our fault, whatever happens."
Tonight's game is the first of three in seven days for the 17th-ranked Terrapins (8-2), who have not played since their victory over Kentucky on Dec. 11. They are hoping to win all three as they get ready for their Atlantic Coast Conference opener at North Carolina State on Jan. 6. However, after the longest layoff in his 11 seasons at Maryland, Williams is unsure what to expect.
The players had Thursday and Friday off to spend with their families before returning for practice Saturday night. After a busy first month of the season, Williams said he thought the break will help his team.
"I think we are in good shape mentally in terms of rest and not feeling any pressure for a while," Williams said. "As far as how we will play, I wish I knew. You never know coming out of a break like this."
Freshman guard Drew Nicholas said he does not think the layoff will have an adverse impact.
"We have been working hard the last two weeks of practice," Nicholas said. "Hopefully we won't come out flat, and we'll get a 'W.' "
The Terrapins enter tonight's game with a 69-game nonconference home winning streak, the nation's longest. Cole Field House likely will not be filled to capacity; tickets are available for tonight, as well as for Thursday night's game against Maryland-Baltimore County and Sunday's game against Coastal Carolina.
Though Williams said he will not decide redshirt freshman Calvin McCall's status until this afternoon, McCall probably will be in uniform tonight. McCall, a 6-foot-3 swingman, was the football team's starting quarterback last fall and has been practicing with the basketball team since Dec. 14.
"Hopefully he will be able to suit up," Williams said. ". . . He gives us a bigger body in the back court and gives us depth in the back court. He is still learning the offense, but he can play defense."
Meantime, George Mason (5-4) entered the season with lofty expectations after winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship last season and advancing to the NCAA tournament. After a sluggish start, the Patriots have played better recently, winning their past three games.
Forward George Evans, last season's CAA player of the year, leads George Mason in scoring (19.6 points per game), rebounding (8.4 per game), steals (2.9 per game) and blocked shots (2.3 per game). As opponents have focused on stopping the 6-7 junior, swingman Erik Herring has increased his production. Herring, who is 6-5, had a season-high 24 points in a 76-71 victory over American on Dec. 18.
The meeting is the first between the teams since the 1989-90 season and is only the second time George Mason has played at Cole Field House.
"Any time we get a chance to measure ourselves against a top-20 program, it is to our benefit," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said. "Obviously, winning is preferable to losing, but whether we win or lose, I am more focused on playing well and doing the things we practice."