Maryland will have inside shot vs. Duke Terps need guards to get ball in the paint

January 03, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Each is looking for positive signs.

Maryland is searching for the answer that might help it solve what could become a season-long question mark at point guard. Duke is hoping to avoid the same dilemma it faced last year inside, when Elton Brand was still in high school.

The 20th-ranked Terrapins and the third-ranked Blue Devils will continue that process when they meet tonight in an 8 o'clock Atlantic Coast Conference game at Cole Field House. As always, exposing the other's weakness will be the object.

With the Terrapins' most recent defeat Tuesday at Missouri reminiscent of their three previous losses this season, the ability to take care of the ball will be crucial for Maryland (7-4, 0-1 in the ACC) to pull off an upset.

"It's a concern for anybody who plays Duke," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after his team's closed practice yesterday. "We have a point guard on our team that started all last year, and we beat Duke with him starting at point guard."

But for the fifth straight game, junior Terrell Stokes will be coming off the bench and fifth-year senior Matt Kovarik will start. After three victories over lesser competition, Maryland blew a second-half lead against the Tigers by making mistakes down the stretch.

Considering the relentless pressure defense they will face, particularly from senior point guard Steve Wojciechowski, the Terrapins will need Kovarik and Stokes to run the half-court offense more efficiently and attack Duke's one defensive weakness -- its inside game.

The Blue Devils lost quite a bit defensively when Brand, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound freshman who led Duke in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, broke his foot in practice last week. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

"You have to see how they play defensively -- if it's open inside, we'll go and get it in there," Williams said. "I think we've got some good inside scoring. Because Brand's not there, it doesn't mean we can get the ball inside.

"The defense on the ball has to do a lot with whether you can get the ball inside or not. It's not just the point guard; it's every position. You've got to be able to pass the ball inside. Hopefully we can do that."

It was the way Michigan upset the then-No. 1 ranked Blue Devils three weeks ago in Ann Arbor. Then, it was 300-pound Robert Traylor using his strength to attack Brand inside and open things up for Louis Bullock on the perimeter.

Tonight, it will be 256-pound junior Obinna Ekezie trying to use his quickness and strength to beat Brand's replacement, fellow freshman Chris Burgess. Admittedly, Duke (11-1, 1-0) is in a period of adjustment with Brand out of the lineup.

"The kid was a dominating player," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this week. "He gives us what people with the most trained eye might not see. It's an inside voice. He talks, telling who's having to switch, things like that."

Said Burgess, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in a 50-point romp over Portland State on Tuesday night: "It's going to be tough. All the big guys are going to have to pick up the slack."

Without Brand, Duke might have to play much the way it did toward the end of last year, relying more on its perimeter players for scoring. When the Terrapins beat the Blue Devils last year at Cole Field House, 74-70, they shut down shooting guard Trajan Langdon, but had trouble stopping forward Roshown McLeod (22 points on 9-for-16 shooting).

Even without Brand, Duke has the deepest team in the ACC. And for the first time since Williams has been at Maryland, the Terrapins have depth. Tonight, it might mean more minutes for redshirt freshman LaRon Cephas and possibly freshman Terence Morris, who played only nine minutes in the loss to Missouri.

"This is a very good Duke team," said Williams, who kept his players off-limits from the media yesterday. "They're not the third-ranked team because they don't deserve to be there. They've got a lot of good players and they're obviously well-coached, so that's a dangerous situation. All of a sudden, they have their depth again and they didn't have it for a while."

NOTES: Krzyzewski announced yesterday that Duke will medical-redshirt status for sophomore forward Nate James. The former McDonald's All-American at St. John's at Prospect Hall, who chose Duke over Maryland, played only 41 minutes this year while hobbled by a sprained right ankle. The 6-foot-6 James VTC averaged 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in six games. He injured the ankle in practice before the Blue Devils' trip to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii. Williams said that he has yet to make a decision on the status of freshman guard Juan Dixon, who became eligible for the second semester. Dixon, the former Calvert Hall star, has yet to play and could be redshirted. The coach said Dixon suffered a mild ankle sprain earlier in the week during practice.

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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