At home, Terps eye destination

Starting tonight, UM plays three of next four league games at Cole

February 02, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland basketball team will remain in the comfortable confines of Cole Field House this week, but the Terrapins hope to take a trip up the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

The No. 25 Terrapins (14-6, 3-4 in the ACC) play three of their next four league games at home, starting tonight against second-place Virginia (15-5, 5-2), and could jet up the standings if they successfully defend their home turf like they have in the past. Maryland is 24-2 at Cole since the end of February 1998 and has won 22 straight at home against unranked opponents.

"I think beating Florida State down there [on Saturday] puts us in a situation where if we do well at home, we can do well in the conference," coach Gary Williams said. "So now we have to show we can do well at home. I think if you want to have a good program, you have to win at home.

"I always love this time of year because after all the polls early, this is where it plays out to see who the best teams are in the league."

Historically, Maryland has owned Virginia at Cole, winning every meeting here since 1994. But these aren't the same Cavaliers of the recent past. With a 10-player rotation, Virginia zone-presses more than any team on Maryland's schedule and tops the league with 20.2 turnovers forced per game.

So although spring semester just began yesterday, it's already test time for Steve Blake, the Terrapins' freshman point guard whose primary job will be breaking down Virginia's pressure.

Blake has quietly settled into one of the ACC's most reliable floor leaders, committing 22 turnovers in seven league games and racking up 55 assists. In three home games, he has shown even more composure, with only eight turnovers in 97 minutes.

"We're not going to back up," Williams said. "I guarantee you that. It'll be interesting because we're known as a pressing team. We haven't pressed as much this year as we have in the past, but you never know."

It's that type of renewed confidence that has grown since the first road win of the season, an 82-63 victory Saturday at Florida State. In their most assertive effort of the season, the Terrapins broke the 80-point ceiling for the first time in almost a month and committed a season-low seven turnovers.

"One game really changes how you feel about yourselves a lot of times," Williams said. "We know when we play like that, we're pretty good. Now can you do that every time out? Can you play at that level offensively? Hopefully, that's a sign of what direction we're going. We're in a pretty good frame of mind heading into the Virginia game."

The Terrapins, though, have always seemed focused returning home, where they have only lost to Duke -- twice -- since Feb. 20, 1998, and have won by an average margin of 27 points during that stretch. This homecoming will also be somewhat of a reunion, with several connections between Maryland and Virginia.

Blake and Virginia freshman forward Travis Watson were teammates last year at high school national champion Oak Hill Academy. Another Cavaliers freshman, guard Roger Mason, was once recruited by the Terrapins. And Maryland center Lonny Baxter played under first-year Virginia assistant Scott Shepherd at Hargrave Military Academy in 1997-98 and described Shepherd as a father figure.

But Maryland has more important priorities than getting reacquainted, especially with Virginia and North Carolina State -- two teams sitting just ahead of the Terrapins in the ACC -- visiting Cole this week.

"It's up to us to go out on the court and get it done," said Baxter, who has 36 points and 16 rebounds in his past two games. "To me, it doesn't make a difference if it's home or on the road. It's a very important game for us. We don't want to fall and begin the second half of the ACC season under .500. So we really need this win to stay in the mix of everything."

NOTES: As of last night, 500 tickets were available for tonight's game. Maryland had sold out two of its three previous ACC home games. Sunday's game against North Carolina State, originally scheduled for 1: 30 p.m., has been moved to a 4 p.m. start. Williams took time yesterday to recall a pleasant memory from Thursday's loss at North Carolina. "I remember my first couple years at Maryland, I don't think that Carolina fans would have run onto the court from beating Maryland," he said. "That felt pretty good in a losing situation." Terrapins guard Juan Dixon is fifth in the league in scoring (17.2). Blake is third in the ACC in assists (6.5), which is ahead of Keith Gatlin's Maryland single-season record of 6.4 in 1985-86.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Virginia (15-5, 5-2 ACC)

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Hot at home

Maryland, which plays three of its next four Atlantic Coast Conference games at Cole Field House, is 24-2 at home since Feb. 20, 1998, with its only two losses coming against Duke. It's the second-best home record in the league over that span.

Over. Over. ACC ACC

School home Pct. home Pct.

Duke 28-0 1.000 12-0 1.000

Maryland 24-2 .923 10-2 .833

N.C. State 28-5 .848 9-4 .692

Wake Forest 20-6 .769 8-5 .615

North Carolina 18-6 .750 11-3 .786

Clemson 20-9 .690 7-5 .583

Virginia 17-8 .680 7-6 .539

Florida State 13-11 .542 5-7 .417

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