Carolina will test depths of Terps revival

January 08, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Two months ago, the notion of Maryland's basketball team even being competitive with North Carolina this season seemed like pure fantasy. The Terrapins were frighteningly young. The defending national champion Tar Heels were merely frightening.

Today, when the teams meet in a 1:30 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference game at sold-out Cole Field House, the idea is not so far-fetched. Not after Maryland opened its ACC season with a 91-88 road upset over 12th-ranked Georgia Tech Tuesday night.

"It's one game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday before practice. "It's not best-of-seven."

It will come down to this: Do the Terps have enough bodies in reserve, or at least enough reserve in their starters, to stay with a No. 2-ranked team that has two 7-footers starting, four on the roster and the luxury of bringing two of the nation's best freshmen -- Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse -- off its bench?

"We have to stay out of foul trouble -- that's the biggest thing -- because North Carolina doesn't have to worry about that, " said Williams, who might have to go a little deeper into his already short bench than he likes. "We have to play hard for 40 minutes. Fatigue could become a problem for us, but not for them."

Maryland (8-2, 1-0 in the ACC) flirted with disaster Tuesday night in Atlanta when, for the second straight game, freshman starters Keith Booth and Joe Smith each picked up his fourth personal with more than seven minutes remaining. The fouls came as the Terps were watching an 18-point lead shrivel to one, but neither fouled out.

"We have to come out and play smart," said Smith, who after scoring 28 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in his ACC debut will be tested severely today by having to face 7-foot All-American Eric Montross, as well as Wallace, North Carolina's best shot blocker. "But that doesn't mean we're going to come out and play soft."

While the Tar Heels are stronger, taller, deeper and clearly superior to anyone in the ACC, strange things have happened here between these teams in recent years. Though less talented Maryland teams have beaten North Carolina, those Tar Heels teams weren't nearly as potent as this one.

Two years ago, the Terps built a 22-point lead in the first half, fell behind with 18.5 seconds to go and won, 82-80, on a tip-in with a little over a second left by Walt Williams. Four years ago, Williams had a performance foretelling of what was in store for the remainder of his Maryland career. Then a sophomore, Williams scored 33 points to lead the Terps to a 98-88 victory.

"I can remember only one game that Maryland didn't play well against us up there," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, whose Tar Heels could be without leading scorer and 1993 Final Four MVP Donald Williams (foot tendinitis). "They had Buck [Williams] and Albert [King] and the fans were booing when we were up 20 at the half."

Smith and Booth, who are quickly becoming to Maryland what those future All-Americans were more than a decade ago, seem totally unfazed by the prospect of playing the Tar Heels. That few expect the Terps to win makes it a bit easier for them to go in without anything to lose but a game in the ACC standings.

"Maryland hasn't beat Carolina in two years, so people won't believe it unless they see it," said Booth, who contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech. "There's no question that if we come out and play hard and execute on offense, we can beat them."

In recent years, Maryland has a tendency to come out either flying or flat in big ACC games. Williams would like his team to get a better grip on its emotions against North Carolina (11-1, 1-0).

"Sometimes when you play a Carolina or some other highly ranked team, you think you have to play at a higher energy level," said Williams. "You try to run faster. You try to shoot better. You try to jump higher.

"The thing that we've stressed is that we don't have to play any harder than we did against Georgetown, Oklahoma, Massachusetts or Georgia Tech."

Said point guard Duane Simpkins: "The key for us is to stay focused, whether we get the lead or get behind. We have to maintain our poise."

Running and jumping aside, Maryland will have to shoot nearly as well as it has in its past four games -- a combined 54.9 percent, including a season-high 62.9 percent against the Yellow Jackets -- to pull off what would be one of the biggest upsets so far this season.

A certain fellow down along Tobacco Road expects the Tar Heels to be tested today.

"They have great athletes with great quickness and great inexperience," said Smith. "But they play like they're experienced. They're a Top 20 team in my opinion."

That, too, is a possibility. Two months ago, it was pure fantasy.

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