Time's not on UM's side

February 10, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- They spent the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball season facing opponents at precisely the right time: then 12th-ranked Georgia Tech, fresh off its upset of Temple. Wake Forest, less than 48 hours after it beat Duke at home. Florida State, before it beat anybody.

Lately, the Maryland Terrapins have been playing teams at the wrong time: No. 2 Duke, after it nearly lost at home to Notre Dame. Virginia, after it had almost a week to rest. And Georgia Tech with, as Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Cremins said later, "our backs against the wall."

Now it's Maryland (12-6, 5-4) that has hit the wall. And not only will the Terps face two more teams at seemingly the wrong time, but they will have to do it in the wrong place as well -- on the road.

It begins here tonight at the Dean Smith Center against top-ranked North Carolina (19-3, 7-2) and continues Saturday at Florida State.

"It's not great to have to regroup and then have to go into playing the No. 1 team on their home court," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps will take a three-game losing streak with them against a team that has won six straight. "It'll be interesting to see how we show up against a team like North Carolina."

Or when they show up.

In each of their previous two losses -- an 73-66 defeat to the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, and an 83-71 decision to the Yellow Jackets Saturday in College Park -- the Terps have been saddled with early double-digit deficits because of poor shooting at one end and lax defense at the other.

In each game, Maryland caught up late and then came up short.

Williams admitted that in some games, even at home, his team has "been nervous to start . . . especially some of the younger guys. Maybe they were trying too hard. Some of these guys have to experience some things first."

Tonight, it will be playing in the 21,444-seat and suddenly noisy Smith Center. "The Dean Dome" has not been kind to the Terps -- oranyone else, for that matter -- the past two years. Since Maryland upset North Carolina here in 1989-90 to complete a regular-season sweep of the Tar Heels, the Terps have lost by 32, 22 and 28 points.

But last month's five-point defeat to North Carolina at Cole Field House should give Maryland the confidence to know it can stay with the taller, older and more talented Tar Heels. That is if it hasn't already been eroded by the team's first significant rough patch of the season, a stretch that Williams says should be measured with the reality of an absurdly young ACC team playing four of five games on the road.

"I just want us to come out and play hard, and let our defense carry us," said Williams. "As long as we play hard for 40 minutes, we'll give ourselves a chance."

While the other ACC teams have adjusted to Maryland by playing more zone and doubling, or even tripling, up on freshman Joe Smith, North Carolina coach Dean Smith said this week that he plans to have his team play the 6-foot-10 center the same way it did last month at Maryland -- with either 7-foot senior Eric Montross or 6-10 freshman Rasheed Wallace. The Tar Heels did play more zone than usual in their 75-70 win Jan. 8.

"We haven't changed all year for only one player, but it certainly enters your mind," said North Carolina's Smith, recalling the 25-point, 10-rebound, two-blocked shot performance by Maryland's Smith. "Our [defensive] principles should work. We just have to play better defense."

Said Joe Smith: "I had to work hard to get my shots in that game, so I know it's not going to be different [tonight]. I can't force things like I have been doing the past few games. If the shot's not there, I have to give it up."

Williams doesn't feel Maryland must make any significant changes either, except to come out more purposefully than it has the past few games. Hitting some open shots might help.

Not that it will take anything less than a perfect game for the Terps to become the sixth team to knock off a No. 1 this season.

It could be a wonderful opportunity for Maryland to repeat what it did here eight years ago, when the Tar Heels also were the top-ranked team in the country. But considering the way North Carolina has played lately, it should be another case of Maryland catching a team at the wrong time.

NOTES: The Tar Heels are expected to have junior G Donald Williams back tonight in a reserve role. Williams, the Most Outstanding Player in last year's Final Four and the team's leading scorer (16.2 ppg) this year, has been out the past three weeks with a separated shoulder.

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