Terps test ACC role reversal

January 28, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- They have traded places in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, as well as in the national polls. And today, Maryland hopes to change something else with Duke: the outcome.

The eighth-ranked Terrapins come into Cole Field House for a 4 p.m. meeting with the Blue Devils confident that they will extend their four-game Atlantic Coast Conference winning streak and end seven years of frustration against Duke.

The Blue Devils are winless in the ACC and unranked for the first time since 1986. They are aware of their success against Maryland -- 15 straight victories and 21 of the last 22 -- as they are of their free fall over the past three weeks.

But none of that matters to Maryland coach Gary Williams. Not that his team's losing streak to Duke is currently the longest among head-to-head matchups in the ACC, or that the Blue Devils have never started 0-7 in the league.

"You don't play mind games. You just go out and play," Williams said yesterday. "It's us playing Duke this year. The past years don't matter."

What had the makings of one of college basketball's most hotly anticipated matchups has cooled considerably. Yet despite its record, Duke (10-8, 0-6) remains an imposing obstacle for Maryland (15-3, 5-1).

The Terps have beaten every team in the league under Williams -- except the Blue Devils. Even with his team's success this season, which includes a 10-0 home record, Williams is still cautious when talking about its chances.

"When you're able to win on the road, there's a tendency to say everything is in our favor at home and we should have no problems," said Williams, whose team is coming off wins at North Carolina State and Clemson. "You can't let up. We have to guard against that."

Duke has to guard against thinking Tuesday night's win at Notre Dame was the cure-all for its problems, which began just before coach Mike Krzyzewski was sidelined with complications from back surgery. Krzyzewski announced Sunday that he won't return until next season.

"People were saying that the monkey's off our backs, but I didn't feel like there was a monkey," said interim coach Pete Gaudet, whose Blue Devils broke a six-game losing streak. "They were saying that when we were going to NCAA championship games and coming up short, but we never felt it."

Gaudet and the other assistants say there has been a noticeable difference about the way the Blue Devils have played, and practiced, since Krzyzewski's decision was finalized. They have been able to focus on the court, not the bench.

"We feel it's given our kids some direction," said assistant Mike Brey. "There is no indecision. There's no feeling of waiting for Coach K to come back. Our attitude with them has been, 'This is the best we can do, let's go out and have fun.' "

Regardless of Duke's struggles, Maryland's confidence might be high as it has been all season. The Terps didn't play well Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, lost nearly all of a 13-point lead with 10 minutes left, and still won there for the first time in seven years.

Now Maryland will try to end a drought that has carried on through one coaching change and several recruiting classes.

"Last year we played them very tough up here," All-American sophomore center Joe Smith recalled of a down-to-the-wire 73-69 defeat. "I think what we have to do is play our game. We feel we're getting better every time we play."

Said junior guard Duane Simpkins: "We're winning games now that we might have lost last year, like Clemson. Last year we had as much talent but they had more experience. This year, they might have as much talent, but our experience carried us through."

Simpkins showed his experience off the court yesterday, too. A year ago, with Maryland off to a surprising 5-1 start in the league, Simpkins boldly predicted a victory in Durham. He went as far as to say that the Terps would kick a collective part of Duke's anatomy. The remark proved a catalyst for the Blue Devils in a 13-point victory.

Asked if he had any predictions for today, Simpkins smiled.

"We'll predict we'll play hard," he said.

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