Kevin Willard Reviews Maryland’s Blowout Loss to UCLA

After beginning the season 7-0, Maryland basketball knew it’d have a tough stretch ahead with three of their next four opponents ranked inside the AP top 25. After pulling off a win against Illinois in the Big Ten home opener, Maryland stumbled on the road against Wisconsin then Tennessee, but Wednesday night’s matchup against UCLA back inside the Xfinity Center gave head coach Kevin Willard’s team a chance to rebound with former players in the stands. Instead, Maryland was outmatched for tip to horn for the first time this season.

“It’s obviously a missed opportunity,” Willard said following the 87-60 loss. “They’re a good basketball team and you know, 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. We just got off to another bad start and it just kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

Maryland ended the first half by making six of its last seven shots, making the 30.8% shooting percentage look better than it was. Instead, Maryland missed all but three of their first 19 shots as UCLA built a near-20 point lead by the under eight timeout. The Bruins would stretch that lead courtesy of a 13-0 run spanning four minutes before Don Carey scored his first points with three minutes left in the half.

Maryland also struggled taking care of the ball after finishing with a season-high 16 turnovers, including 11 in the first half and five from Jahmir Young alone.

“That’s something that we’re really gonna work on this week,” Willard added. “Tennessee’s length and athleticism bothered us and again, their length and, Tyger and Jaquez are two guys that just really understand how to play the game defensively. They’re so smart, they read the ball so well.”

After fighting back from as many as 21 down against Tennessee on Sunday, Maryland wasn’t able to muster a similar comeback against UCLA as the early deficit steadily grow as the game progressed. “I’m hoping a couple days rest and, three or four days rest will help that, to be honest. It. We’ve played some really good teams too, that have come out. I mean, what, Tennessee, they struggled offensively against us. Wisconsin struggled offensively against us. So it’s not just us playing. We’ve been playing pretty good. This was the first time all season that we just didn’t have a lot of energy on the defensive end, and they took advantage of it.”

After UCLA took a 49-20 lead into halftime with boos heard for the first time as the team made its way into the locker room, matters would get worse with forward Julian Reese sidelined for the second half due to a shoulder injury. Willard admitted it was a precautionary decision as they’ll evaluate their big man over the week break. “So Juju got elbowed early in the game on a rebound on his right shoulder and he tried to battle through it, but we were playing with four against five, and then at halftime the trainer said it’s probably just best to take him out,” Willard added. “So I don’t think it’s anything serious, but it was more cautionary than anything else.

Maryland was able to empty its bench to close the game as Ike Cornish and Caelum Swanton-Rodger both logged extended minutes while Noah Batchelor tied his season-high 14 minutes. As Maryland now looks to regroup, Willard will give his team a chance to reset before honing in on the film.

“We’re gonna take some time off. We’re gonna get, I think we’re almost gonna have four days where these guys, A, they can focus on their studies and B, they can kind of just get some rest [because] we have not really had a day off since before Louisville. Because we’ve traveled and the 9:00 PM games getting back at 5:00 AM, that’s really not a day off even though it is a day off for those guys, it’s not. It hasn’t been on the weekend, it’s been during a school day so they’ve had to wake up and go to. I think Sunday, they’re off. Sunday’s gonna be their first real off day since before Louisville. Again, like I said, I love this team. This doesn’t change anything. You know, every once in a while you get your ass kicked. It’s part of life, and they’ll bounce back. They’ve bounced back. So far, we’ve played good basketball. We’ll get back to playing good basketball. Having a little adversity right now.

Maryland will return to action next Thursday, December 22 against Saint Peter’s for a 6:30 PM tipoff.

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