Maryland-Villanova Preview

Maryland learned last season just how good Villanova’s backcourt
can be. Now the Terrapins also have to be concerned about the
Wildcats’ frontcourt.

Jordan Williams, the nation’s third-leading rebounder and
Maryland’s top scorer, could face a big challenge Saturday in
Philadelphia and his team certainly will as it tries to end
Villanova’s 10-game winning streak.

Known mostly for their guard play since coach Jay Wright took
over, the seventh-ranked Wildcats (15-1) are receiving more help
inside to take some pressure off senior guards Corey Stokes and
Corey Fisher.

Mouphtaou Yarou, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, is coming off his fourth
double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds in an
88-74 win over No. 18 Louisville on Wednesday. Villanova
outrebounded the Cardinals 41-23, posting a double-digit advantage
for the fourth time in seven games.

Forward Antonio Pena was the only Wildcats starter not in double
figures but had eight points.

“We did have a balance and that was unusual for us,” Wright
said.

That could only help Villanova going into this matchup with the
6-10 Williams, averaging 17.7 points and 12.1 rebounds.

The sophomore had 19 points and 12 boards when these teams met
Dec. 6 last season in Washington, but Maryland lost 95-86. Stokes
and Fisher combined for 38 points and nine 3-pointers, while
since-departed star guard Scottie Reynolds scored 25. Pena grabbed
11 rebounds, but Yarou did not play.

“Pena has improved his game say from last year where he can make
the 15-footer now. Yarou is really a good, tough, physical inside
player at about 6-foot-10, 6-foot-9 for those two guys,” coach Gary
Williams said. “So they can play a couple different ways. They can
play a big team or they can go four guards and still not be that
small because one of the guards is 6-foot-6.”

Pena and Yarou are both averaging more than nine points and
seven rebounds, providing legitimate frontcourt threats for a team
that often relied on 3-point shooting. The Wildcats have shot 56.4
percent from beyond the arc in four games this month but are 11th
in the Big East in 3-point attempts.

The Terrapins (11-5) have made an ACC-low 70 3-pointers as they
continue to count on Williams, who posted a 10th straight
double-double in a 74-55 win at Wake Forest on Wednesday.

Three days earlier, Williams nearly led an upset of top-ranked
Duke as he had 23 points and 13 rebounds in a 71-64 loss. It was a
one-point game with 6 1/2 minutes to play.

“We knew after that (Duke) game, we played really well,”
Williams said. “Now we can get our momentum going. … After the
game, everyone was cheering and I said, ‘This is just the
beginning.’ We’ve got to keep it moving and keep it going.”

Preventing Villanova from posting an 11th straight win certainly
would build the momentum.

The Wildcats still get the bulk of their scoring from the
backcourt, with Stokes averaging 17.0 points and Fisher 15.3.
Villanova is 26-1 when getting more than 15 points from Stokes, and
he’s shooting a Big East-best 46.8 percent from 3-point range on
the season. Fisher has made 7 of 14 this month.

Maryland has a budding perimeter threat of its own in Cliff
Tucker, who has reached double figures in all five games since
being taken out of the starting lineup. He’s 9 of 18 from 3-point
range in that span.

The senior scored a season-high 21 points Wednesday.

“Of course, I want to start – coach Williams knows I want to
start,” Tucker said. “I’m not going to pout about it. Whenever I’m
in the game, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team
win.”