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IOWA CITY — Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons stood in a corner of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena media room, and one reporter started the round of questioning by playing word association.
“Melo,” the reporter said. Clemmons smiled, then responded.
“Great player,” Clemmons said. “Really quick, can shoot the ball. Do a lot of stuff off the dribble. Gets to the lane, shoots free throws. One of the best in the country, that’s Melo for you.”
‘Melo’ is Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who might be the nation’s best at his position. Trimble leads the No. 7 Terrapins (17-3, 6-2 Big Ten) in scoring (14.5), assists (5.6), total steals (25) and free-throw percentage (87.0). He has scored 20 points or more six times this year and put up 24 at Michigan State last Saturday.
By Tuesday afternoon, Iowa coaches had yet to introduce the Maryland game plan to their players for Thursday’s game (6 p.m. ESPN). But all of them already knew what to expect from Trimble, especially those who will line up against him.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the country,” said Iowa point guard Mike Gesell, Trimble’s counterpart. “It’s fun to get a match-up against a guy like that, and it’s one of the reasons I signed up in the Big Ten to be able to play against some of the best players in the country.
“He was just a freshman, and I thought he was one of the best players I played against all last year. He’s a much better player this year, so it will be sweet to match up against him.”
In man defense, it’s likely Clemmons or Gesell will draw Trimble, who’s adept in every area of offense. He can score on his own, or he can distribute for a talented group of teammates. If help collapses around Trimble, he finds teammates. If he’s defended by one player for too long, evenutally it becomes a mismatch.
“You can’t guard that guy with one person,” Gesell said. “There’s so many players in the Big Ten like that so we’re used to it. He’s just a guy that affects the game in so many ways and it will definitely be a team effort.”
“He’s brutal in ball screens; a lot of times he doesn’t even need a screen because he’s so quick, and he gives it up easy and he gives it up early,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “And those guys are ready. They’ve got their hands ready and they catch passes in traffic and finish plays in traffic.
“But he’s got a lot of weapons around him, which, any time you have a guy like him and you put four other great players around him, it makes him that much more difficult. Because if you’re going to help, you’re going to give something up.”
Trimble was christened the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year after an impressive rookie campaign. He was named first-team all-Big Ten after putting up 16.2 points a game. He led the league in free-throw percentage (86.3) and was fourth nationally in made free throws (207). He ranks second in Big Ten free-throw percentage this year despite shooting a better number (87.0).
Trimble already has more assists (112) this season than he did as a freshman (106). In big games, Trimble has played big. He scored 23 points with 12 assists at North Carolina. He posted 25 points against UConn, 24 against Northwestern, Georgetown and Michigan State and 21 at Wisconsin. He guided Maryland to a school-record 15-1 start and was named MVP at both the Cancun Challenge and the CBE Classic.
Iowa (16-3, 7-0 Big Ten) beat Maryland 71-55 last year in Iowa City, and this is the teams’ only regular-season meeting. Despite a slow start, Trimble still scored 20 points. And he’s better this year.
“He’s a great player,” Iowa guard Peter Jok said. “He’s one of the top players in the nation. He can shoot, drive, pass. He can do everything. It’s going to be a tough match-up for our guards. I think we’re up to it. It’s going to be a team defense, not on individuals. We’ll be ready for him.”
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