Hot Terps cool down before facing Devils

MARYLAND NOTEBOOK

Five-day rest will give injuries chance to heal

January 24, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - When a team is playing as well as the Terps are, a layoff sometimes can be a curse.

But with a five-day break before facing visiting, No. 2-ranked Duke on Saturday night, Maryland welcomes the hiatus.

First, the down time allows key players like shooting guard Juan Dixon and reserve forward Tahj Holden to recuperate. Dixon is dealing with a bruised tailbone that caused him to miss the second half of Sunday's 75-61 victory at North Carolina State. Holden is only a week removed from returning to action after missing nine games with a broken bone in his left foot.

Both players did limited work at yesterday's practice, after the team enjoyed a day off Monday.

"When you're playing well, you like playing every three or four days," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps (14-4, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won 13 of their past 14 games. "This is a good time for us to get healthy. If we're good, we'll use this time to our advantage. I really think we need to work on some things."

Containing dynamic Duke players like point guard Jason Williams, forward Shane Battier and swingman Mike Dunleavy will weigh heavily on the Terps' minds. Beating such a road-tested team promises to be a huge challenge, as the Blue Devils have won an ACC-record 22 straight away from home.

The last time Maryland beat Duke in College Park was Jan. 26, 1997. In 12 seasons under Williams, the Terps are 5-21 against the Blue Devils. The teams split regular-season meetings last season, with each squad winning on the road.

Redshirt junior Maryland forward Byron Mouton will be playing against Duke for the first time, and Mouton understands the implications of Saturday's confrontation.

"Duke is the game. If you want to be at the top of the ACC, you've got to beat Duke," Mouton said.

In the meantime, the Terps are hoping Wake Forest takes some zip out of the Blue Devils tonight, when the Demon Deacons play at Duke.

Perched again among elite

It took Maryland two months to claw its way back to a spot among the game's elite. Their victory over Wake Forest a week ago, combined with Sunday's easy win at North Carolina State, has catapulted the Terps back into the Top 10.

Maryland's No. 8 ranking is its highest perch since beginning the season ranked fifth.

The Terps' season-opening 1-2 flop in the Maui Invitational, where they lost to Illinois and Dayton, dropped them out of the Top 10. Their overtime loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 29, which gave the Terps their first 1-3 start in 32 years, nearly sent Maryland tumbling out of the Top 20.

But since winning the BB&T Classic in early December, the Terps have lost once - at home to North Carolina. Maryland's 81-71 decision over Wake Forest marked its first victory over a ranked team.

"As you play more teams in your conference who are ranked, you find out who belongs where," Williams said. "Nobody knows yet who the top four teams are going to be at the end of February. What we do over the next month and a half is certainly going to determine our poll position, along with everybody else."

Five ACC teams - Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest and Virginia - are ranked among the nation's top 13 teams.

Rebounding on boards, line

Maryland has addressed its early-season rebounding problems. Since beginning the ACC schedule, the Terps have produced their four highest rebounding efforts of the season, topped by their 54-board day against Florida State 10 days ago. Forward Terence Morris and center Lonny Baxter are averaging just over 20 rebounds a game between them against the league.

The Terps also have reversed some shortcomings at the free-throw line, where they struggled badly on occasion against nonconference opponents.

Against the ACC, Maryland is shooting 76.6 percent at the foul line. This, after hitting only 67.8 percent of their free throws before conference play.

"Not many teams shoot over 70 percent in college basketball anymore. The players have pride in that," said Williams, whose team is shooting 70.8 percent overall (356-for-503) at the line.

"In my experience as a coach, free-throw shooting is contagious. If you dwell on [a bad day], it sometimes gets worse. It's like putting in golf. Some guys will stay out for three hours until it gets dark after a bad putting round. Other guys will just throw the clubs in the trunk, go home, and next time, they make every putt."

Dixon has converted 33 of 34 attempts in the ACC, and has made 53 of his past 54 attempts while shooting 89.7 percent overall. Morris is shooting 90.3 percent against the league, 80.6 percent overall.

Et cetera

Maryland's 5-1 record in the ACC includes two victories in which they have shot a lower percentage from the field than their opponent. ... Although point guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas showed positive signs in Sunday's victory at North Carolina State, the pair has struggled as shooters in conference play. Blake has made nine of 25 shots. Nicholas has converted on 10 of 27. They have combined to make only four of 20 attempts from three-point range.

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