Maryland in no mood to share

March 05, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland has gone from being hungry to greedy. With their appetites for a part of this year's Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title sufficiently whetted, the Terps won't be happy until they've devoured the whole thing.

Sixth-ranked Maryland (23-5, 12-3) hopes to finish off its most successful meal, uh, ACC season ever by beating 13th-ranked Virginia (19-7, 11-4) this afternoon at University Hall in Charlottesville, Va.

"We've come this far, it doesn't seem to make sense to be satisfied with only a part of it," said junior point guard Duane Simpkins. "We want to go for it all. It feels good, but it'll feel better Monday morning to see our name at the top of the standings."

A victory would give the Terps their first ACC regular-season title since 1979-80 and only the third in school history. Wake Forest and North Carolina won yesterday, so a Maryland defeat today would create the first four-way tie for first place in the history of the league.

But the Terps weren't thinking about that possibility, which could mean their being seeded as low as third in the ACC tournament, which begins Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum. They were thinking only about completing their rapid ascent from the bottom of the ACC to the top. And they mean the very top.

"To win the ACC would be great, especially after being 2-14 as a freshman," said junior forward Exree Hipp. "A lot of people were telling us that no matter what happened, Maryland would never be back to where it was in the days of Len Bias and Keith Gatlin. But here we are."

In fact, this year's Maryland team already has surpassed the accomplishments of all but a few. These Terps have won more ACC games than any of their predecessors, though a 16-game conference schedule has helped. The 23 victories ties the most in a regular season.

They also have won their only game without their head coach. Maryland's 94-92 victory Wednesday at Duke -- its first at Cameron Indoor Stadium in seven years -- came a day after Gary Williams was hospitalized with pneumonia. Williams remains hospitalized, and his return date is uncertain.

"We're a very mature team, and we know what we have to do on the court," All-America center Joe Smith said after his 40 points, 18 rebounds and buzzer tip-in led Maryland to victory in Durham. "We want Coach Williams to get back when he's healthy, but we have a lot of confidence in Coach Hahn and the other assistants."

Billy Hahn, whose teams never won the Mid-American Conference in his three years as head coach at Ohio University during the early 1980s, knows how significant today's game is for Maryland. But just as Williams would do, Hahn is not over-emphasizing it to the point of distraction.

Asked whether there might be an emotional letdown after clinching a piece of the title against the Blue Devils, Hahn said: "I won't know until Sunday, but I doubt it. This team has been very good all season at playing one game at a time."

This will be a different Virginia team from the one Maryland defeated, 71-62, behind 29 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks by Smith on Feb. 1 at College Park.

A week later, junior guard Cory Alexander broke his foot for the second time in two years. He will miss the rest of the season and has reconfirmed plans to make himself available for the NBA draft this spring.

"When your star player gets hurt, the other players have to step up and that's what they've done," said Maryland guard Johnny Rhodes. "Everyone looks to pick up the slack. It's a big game for them, and I'm sure they'll be pumped up."

As big a game it is for the Cavaliers, their fate in the ACC tournament seedings already has been decided. Virginia will be seeded fourth because of yesterday's results, when Wake Forest defeated North Carolina State and North Carolina beat Duke. Even if there is a four-way tie, Virginia will be fourth, based on its two losses to the Demon Deacons.

"I think the importance of sharing the title is still there," Cavaliers coach Jeff Jones said. "That's something we want. It would have been nice if we could have done something to have it by ourselves."

Maryland still can.

A once-hungry team has suddenly gotten very greedy.

ACC SEEDINGS

* If Maryland beats Virginia today, the Terps win the ACC championship outright and will be the top seed in the tournament.

* If the Terps lose, they will finish in a four-way tie with North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest at 11-5. The Demon Deacons would be the top seed in the tournament, North Carolina would be second, Maryland would be third and Virginia fourth.

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