No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball had a golden chance to bounce back from a two-game losing spell with college basketball titan and No. 16 UCLA coming to town.
The XFINITY Center was ready to roll for the top-20 showdown, but the Terps came out flat for the second straight game.
Maryland buried itself in a hole from the get-go Wednesday — just like it did in its last game against Tennessee before steadily clawing its way back — but this one was unconquerable.
The Terps fell to UCLA, 87-60, wrapping up an unforgiving four-game slate to start December — one that they went 1-3 during.
“It’s obviously a missed opportunity, but they’re a good basketball team,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “We’re just, right now we’re just a little beat up and a little tired. So they came in, they played well, they were aggressive. And we were just a little bit defensive and we just got off to another bad start and just kind of took the wind out of ourselves.”
Willard has constantly mentioned how he would never put together a schedule like this in the future and that he has been desperate for practice time. Perhaps Wednesday’s blowout was a product of exhaustion and the run of arduous competition. Regardless, Maryland once again finds itself in prove-it mode before Big Ten play resumes on Jan. 1.
Shortly before tipoff, the UC Board of Regents approved the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten by an 11-5 vote, confirming a move that was first reported June 30. The spark of the June 8 announcement that Maryland and UCLA would play a home-and-home series in 2022 and 2023 has dissipated a bit knowing that they would play annually starting in the 2024-25 season, but anticipation remained rampant.
Regardless of future affiliation, UCLA is a bonafide blue blood and the most premier nonconference opponent to come to College Park in quite some time.
On the court, Maryland once again got off to a brutal offensive start. The Terps missed their first seven field goals and went into the first media timeout trailing their future conference foe, 7-0.
UCLA continued to completely bother the Terps, clawing out to a 17-5 lead nearly nine minutes in and forcing Willard to use his first timeout. Maryland’s start Wednesday was eerily similar to Sunday’s against Tennessee at the Barclays Center, though this time it was at home.
“I would say our mentality,” graduate guard Don Carey said on what needs to improve to eliminate the slow starts. “[This stretch], it’s been physically and mentally taxing on us, but we just got to get tougher than that. We have another stretch just like this in January, I believe. So this is no excuse, you just have to learn from it and get better.”
Things continued to get worse before they got better for Maryland, which trailed 26-7 before Willard had to use his second timeout with 8:13 to play in the first half. The Terps failed to match the Bruins’ physicality and intensity, which has become a trend in their last two games.
“No, I think you gotta give UCLA credit, they just kicked our ass,” Willard said of the physicality. “I don’t think we had a chance to really be physical. I think by the time we wanted to be physical we were probably down 25. So just this is more about I think UCLA came in and they played much better than us.”
Graduate point guard Jahmir Young, who had been so steady running Maryland’s offense this season, struggled immensely as a byproduct of UCLA’s press and physicality. Young missed his first four shots and turned the ball over four times before Maryland’s second timeout, summing up uncharacteristic play for the Terps’ newfound star. He finished the game 0-for-8 from the field and with just three points.
Though the XFINITY Center tried to slowly propel the Terps back in it, UCLA had an answer for every punch. Willard used his third of four timeouts with 5:09 to play in the first half, a rare but necessary desperation move, in a last-ditch effort to re-energize his troops.
But it didn’t matter.
UCLA continued to dice up Maryland, which showed zero resistance on the defensive end of the floor.
The Bruins were relentless as they went into the halftime break with a gargantuan 49-20 lead. Jaylen Clark led UCLA with 16 points, while David Singleton and Jaime Jaquez Jr. each added 12 in a 55.6% first-half shooting clinic.
UCLA looked tougher and simply better than Maryland, which failed to muster any sort of plausible offense and turned the ball over 11 times before halftime.
Maryland did not receive any more encouraging news to start the second half, as a team spokesperson confirmed to Testudo Times that sophomore forward Julian Reese would miss the rest of the game with a shoulder injury.
With the game already in its back pocket by the first media timeout of the second half, the student section raced to the exits with their beloved Terps trailing 61-24.
Getting doubled up by a score of 72-36 with less than 10 minutes left, an audible “play the walk-ons” chant roared from a heckler in attendance.
Fans didn’t have much to cheer for in Wednesday’s embarrassing defeat. The Terps finished with a 40.4% clip from the field and 16 turnovers, the second most they have had all season.
Three things to know
1. Another putrid start. Maryland once again struggled to resemble a competent offense in the first half, finishing the first 20 minutes with 20 points. The Terps made more first-half field goals than they did last Sunday — eight Wednesday to just three against the Vols — but only took two shots from the charity stripe compared to 11 in Sunday’s first half. The Bruins picked apart the Terps from the jump, building an insurmountable and shocking 29-point halftime lead on the road.
2. The first major health concern of the year. Graduate forward Patrick Emilien missed the Nov. 25 Coppin State game with a sprained ankle. Sparingly-used redshirt freshman guard/forward Ike Cornish had previously been dealing with illness and hip flexor and groin injuries. Other than that, this team has been virtually 100% healthy. Maybe Reese being kept out of the second half with a shoulder injury was a general precaution in a blowout, but his status is certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward.
“So [Julian] got elbowed early in the game on a rebound on his right shoulder,” Willard said postgame. “And he tried to battle through it, but we were playing four against five. At halftime, the trainer said it was probably just best to take him out. And so, I don’t think it’s anything serious, but it was more of a cautionary thing than anything else.”
3. A rigorous four-game stretch crashed down to Earth. Since the nonconference schedule was released in July, all eyes were on Maryland’s stretch of consecutive games against Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA; a road game at Louisville would have started a five-game run if the Cardinals were not such an epic failure.
Maryland started the run in emphatic fashion, escaping Big Ten contender Illinois with a 71-66 home win on Dec. 2. Four days later, the Terps took their first loss at Wisconsin, a five-point, perfectly acceptable defeat to a team now ranked nationally. Against Tennessee, the Terps staged a ferocious comeback that came up just three points short. Wednesday’s home loss was an incredibly low moment for Willard in year one, but the good news is that it is December and there is plenty of basketball to play. The Terps will have eight days off before taking on Saint Peter’s at home on Dec. 22.
“Obviously, we’re not that much better than Maryland,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said. “I think a couple things. One, they were in a bloodbath on Sunday. We were able to play our subs most of the game against Denver on Saturday. They were in a bloodbath at Wisconsin last week as well. So sometimes, it’s the scheduling, it’s almost like the — it happens a lot in the NBA, but in college it does happen. So I think the schedule was clearly in our favor. We had played four of our last five at home, and I think three in a row at home. And they’re coming off three straight bloodbaths, so their emotional tank might have been a little bit on empty.”