Maryland lost its chance to win a share of consecutive ACC regular season titles for the first time yesterday when Wake Forest beat North Carolina State, but the Terrapins say they still have plenty of motivation for tonight's regular season finale at slumping Virginia.
After all, Virginia handed Maryland its only home loss in conference play the past two seasons, 86-78 on Feb. 6. Some Maryland players said they were embarrassed by that performance, in which they blew a 12-point lead in the final 13 minutes. They would like to gain a measure of retribution tonight.
"We obviously don't like losing at home, and they got us here, which hurts a little bit," shooting guard Drew Nicholas said. "We're going in with the fact that we owe them a little something."
Point guard Steve Blake took a slightly different approach, but he, too, said this is a game to which players are looking forward.
"No one is talking about revenge, but we know we let one get away from us last time," Blake said. "It's the one game we kind of let slip away. It was our fault. We didn't perform the way we're supposed to. We can make up for it with a win down there."
In particular, Maryland (19-7, 11-4 ACC) wants to play better defense than it did in the teams' first meeting. Virginia shot 49.1 percent in that game, including 12 of 22 three-point attempts, many of them on open looks in transition as the Terrapins struggled to find their men.
"You have to guard people," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "That probably was one of our worst defensive performances this year, maybe our worst.
"I think this team has just done a good job, home and road, of getting ready to play for the most part. Probably the game that we didn't prepare very well was the Virginia game. If you look back over the season, that's probably as poorly as we were ready to play. I think our players certainly remember that. I remember. . . . It's nice to get another chance to play that team."
Maryland has spent the past few weeks watching the scoreboard, hoping a Wake Forest slip would allow the Terrapins to pull even and claim the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, which will begin Thursday in Greensboro, N.C. However, since losing to Maryland on Feb. 17, the Demon Deacons won their final six games, including 78-72 over N.C. State yesterday, to claim their first outright regular season title since 1962.
Instead, Maryland and Duke, which plays at North Carolina today, are vying for the second and third seeds in the conference tournament, with Maryland holding the tiebreaker by virtue of its series sweep of fourth-place N.C. State.
"Any win you get on the road late in the year helps you not just in the league but for future things," Williams said, alluding to the NCAA tournament.
While the Terrapins try to improve their postseason seedings, Virginia (14-14, 5-10) needs a victory to be eligible for the National Invitation Tournament. If the Cavaliers lose, they would have to win two games in the ACC tournament to reach the .500 mark and be eligible for the NIT. Virginia, which has not won an ACC tournament game since 1995, also needs a victory to stay out of the ACC tournament play-in game.
"We're going to try to have a winning record or a .500 record or above, but the big thing is getting into the NCAA tournament," Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said in an apparent admission of his team's disappointing season. "In a lot of major conferences, it's NCAA or bust."
Tonight's game will be the final one at University Hall for three Virginia seniors, including center Travis Watson, and they will be honored in a pregame ceremony.
"We always love sending those seniors off with a loss," Blake said. "We did that to [Duke's Shane Battier] a few years ago. That was fun."