Gonzaga 88, Maryland 76
Maryland will play 25 more games before the season's defining month of March arrives, but Coach Gary Williams was in postseason form Monday afternoon. Wearing a cream-colored button-down shirt wet with perspiration, Williams was steaming hot, literally and figuratively.
He had just watched his team match one of the nation's best teams basket for basket for 30 minutes before fading down the stretch in an 88-76 loss to eighth-ranked Gonzaga. But when his postgame news conference ended, Williams briskly walked out of the Lahaina Civic Center and climbed into the passenger side of a waiting car that transported him back to the team hotel.
No players were allowed to speak to the media following Maryland's loss in the first round of the Maui Invitational. Williams's explanation: "They have to play at 8:30 tomorrow morning."
The 23rd-ranked Terrapins (1-1) will play Chaminade, the Division II host school, at 1:30 p.m. EST Tuesday in the consolation round, which is little consolation for a Terps team that held a six-point lead against Gonzaga (2-0) early in the second half. But Maryland's performance did little to change the perspective of Williams's good friend, Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach who has watched Maryland extensively in recent years and touts this season's team specifically.
"It wouldn't surprise me if they ended up down the road in the Final Four," Few said. "You can't get athletes like that spread across the board that press. You watch it on tape, you watch it live. Sometimes it looks like there is nothing open."
Maryland's pressure, particularly in the half court, helped the Terps rally after falling behind by nine points in the first half. But with the game tied at 60 midway through the second half, Gonzaga went on a 10-0 run. The Terrapins were plagued by turnovers (23) and unable to stop Gonzaga in the second half, when the Bulldogs missed only six shots.
Gonzaga is expected to be more formidable than the team that beat Maryland two seasons ago at MCI Center, particularly because of the emergence of Adam Morrison, the floppy-haired national player of the year candidate who draws comparisons to Larry Bird.
Maryland combated the strong mid-range game of the 6-foot-8 Morrison with 6-5 Chris McCray, one of the team's best defenders, and 6-8 Nik Caner-Medley. Williams termed their defensive effort "okay" after Morrison finished with 25 points.
During Gonzaga's second-half spurt, point guard Derek Raivio and center J.P. Batista were the catalysts. Few was impressed that Batista was so effective, making 6 of 9 shots against Maryland's long and athletic interior players.
The game was taut, frenetic and emotionally charged throughout. When McCray's defense forced Gonzaga to commit a five-second violation in the first half, Williams took three steps out on the court and extended his hand for McCray to slap. In the first half, Maryland had four steals that resulted in breakaway dunks.
But 14 of Maryland's 23 turnovers came in the opening 20 minutes. It was not caused by Gonzaga's pressure; the Bulldogs opted to play zone almost entirely because of the absence of their best perimeter defender, Erroll Knight, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
"Zones don't usually make you turn it over," Williams said. "We made some mistakes."
In the first half, Gonzaga also had trouble, committing 12 turnovers and shooting 37 percent. The Bulldogs protected the ball better in the second half, which resulted in better shots. They made 19 of 25 field goals and all six free throws after halftime.
The Terrapins are guaranteed two more games here, including today against a Chaminade team that lacks both depth and strong interior play. Aside from Chaminade, every team in the Maui field is a national contender.
"You have two choices," Williams said. "You can schedule three games against teams you beat by 30, or you can come over here and play. For our program, for our university, this is a great thing to do."