Streaking Terps look to poll-vault over Heels

UM gets prime chance to climb, facing No. 9

January 10, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The early-season struggles are far behind them now. But if you listen to forward Danny Miller, the Terrapins are eyeing tonight's game against North Carolina as a chance to solidify their recovery before a national television audience that will include viewers unmoved by Maryland.

Since getting off to a 1-3 start, 14th-ranked Maryland has won 10 consecutive games. Bolstered by a deep bench and a Juan Dixon-led offense that recently put together four straight 100-point games, the Terps have a chance at a 3-0 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time in four years. They also can make a serious run at top 10 status in the national polls.

Maryland would love to drop the No. 9 Tar Heels to reassert the Terps' perceived place in the ACC. And besides, it's North Carolina. Little additional motivation is required.

"There's a lot of things we know this game means," Miller said. "[North Carolina] is ranked higher than us. We feel we deserve to be ranked higher than we are. I think we know we're a good team. We don't have to prove it to ourselves. We just have to go out and prove it to everybody else."

The Terps expect to learn a little more about themselves tonight. North Carolina (11-2, 2-0), led by first-year coach and Tar Heels alum Matt Doherty, has size in 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and 6-11 forward Kris Lang, shooters led by All-America candidate Joe Forte and the typical attitude that emanates from Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels, winners of eight straight and fresh off a dramatic, 70-69 victory over then-No. 4 Wake Forest on Saturday, have designs on advancing to the Final Four for the second straight year.

Tonight offers some juicy, game-within-the-game battles, starting with an inside war that could develop between Lonny Baxter and Haywood. In Dixon and Forte, two of the nation's top scorers will be on display. Lang and the resurgent Terence Morris - averaging 18.5 points and nine rebounds in the past four games - could exchange a few elbows before the night has ended.

And it all could come down to a Maryland bench that might be the best in the conference.

Miller, replaced in the lineup by forward Byron Mouton six weeks ago, has averaged 7.8 points in the past eight games. Senior center Mike Mardesich, Baxter's understudy, has 42 points and 23 rebounds in the past five games. Backup point guard Drew Nicholas is shooting 52.8 percent from three-point range. Freshman forward Chris Wilcox is another electrifying dunk waiting to happen.

"These are the games where you hopefully can use your bench like you have all year," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "To have a guy Mardesich's size is a tremendous advantage. With him and Chris up against a guy like [Carolina reserve Julius] Peppers, it allows you to go four-deep up front."

Baxter sees the Terps' nine-deep rotation - and that doesn't include injured forward Tahj Holden (broken foot), who could begin practicing by next week - as a critical advantage against Carolina.

"We know we have a talented team. We know how much depth we have," Baxter said. "You want to show everybody that you can match up and play with [Carolina]. I know I'm going to be fired up."

Baxter also is determined not to fall into more foul trouble. He has played 23 and 20 minutes in the past two games, finishing with four fouls in each. His seven points in Saturday's victory over Georgia Tech was a season low.

Baxter also is encountering a chronically inconsistent opponent in Haywood, who scored four points over two games before scoring a game-high 24 and recording the game-winning put-back against Wake Forest four days ago.

This could be the first relatively low-scoring game in some time for the high-powered Terps, who average 93.1 points, second in the ACC. Although the Tar Heels like to run some, they would rather keep Maryland at a half-court tempo. The Terps think they can eventually run Carolina out of Cole.

It will be interesting to see if Terps point guard Steve Blake can snap out of a scoring funk against North Carolina sophomore Ronald Curry, who has begun to stabilize the backcourt after missing a year following a serious knee injury he suffered while playing quarterback for the football team.

Curry, who is not a scoring threat, has recorded 12 assists and only five turnovers while averaging 34 minutes in the past three games.

"We're coming off a nice win. I think the key for us right now is to forget that win, especially when you play at Maryland," Doherty said. "We haven't won up there in the last three years. It's a tough environment."

Terps tonight

Opponent: No. 9 North Carolina

Site: Cole Field House

Time: 7

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

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