Terps set for Duke, hype

No. 2 Blue Devils `just another game,' Williams, players insist

College Basketball

January 27, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - To a man, the Maryland Terrapins maintained straight faces while proclaiming tonight's Cole Field House invasion by Duke as just another tough night in the unforgiving world of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"You have to be tough enough not to buy into the thinking that this game is special," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, mindful that the Terps must travel to Virginia on Wednesday to complete their first round of play against the ACC, before beginning the next, vicious cycle. "You can't put any extra value on conference games. These are games you look back on later."

"Basically, it's just another game," senior forward Terence Morris said. "[Duke] is coming into our house undefeated in the league. But we really are going to try not to blow it out of proportion."

"I don't look at statistics or anything like that," point guard Steve Blake added. "I just go in there and play like it's another game, just play hard, like you would any other game."

Nice try, fellas.

Now, hear this. If the eighth-ranked Terps (14-4, 5-1), winners of 13 of their past 14 games and clearly one of the top teams in the ACC, want to feel like potential conference champions and Final Four participants in Minneapolis, they must hurdle the wall known as the No. 2 Blue Devils.

Maryland's mission is daunting. Find a way to beat a team with five potential NBA draft picks, players that drive arguably the nation's most explosive offense, led by the game's best collection of shooters.

Find a way to unseat a team making a strong bid to become the first to win five consecutive ACC titles. Find a way to knock off a team with a 54-2 record in its last 56 conference games and an ACC-record, 22-game road winning streak.

Duke (18-1, 6-0), which is 64-6 in the regular season since the start of the 1997-1998 season, doesn't blow many chances. Consider that Maryland's 25-10 team from a year ago lost more games overall than the Blue Devils have dropped since 1998.

The Terps believe they can win, for one simple reason. They have done it before. The only ACC team to beat the Blue Devils in their last 45 conference games was Maryland, which upset Duke, 98-87, last Feb. 9 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Maryland, which is trying to beat back-to-back Top 10 opponents at Cole Field House for the first time ever, has not beaten the Blue Devils in College Park in four years.

All the Terps have to do is contain the best two players in the nation in point guard Jason Williams and forward Shane Battier. And while doing that, don't let center Carlos Boozer rule the inside. Oh, and don't forget about swingman Mike Dunleavy or forward Nate James. They each averaged double figures in scoring.

"You look at their team, and I really believe they have five first-round draft picks," said Gary Williams, who is 5-21 against Duke in 12 seasons at Maryland. "They have four players on the floor who can shoot the three-pointer. They have a player inside as good as Boozer, so you can't just extend [the defense] on their three-point shooters."

The Blue Devils, whose only loss came against top-ranked Stanford, win often and win big. They are averaging 93.7 points and giving up only 68.4, and they are always an explosive run waiting to happen. They do the little things as well as any Mike Krzyzewski-coached team has done. Opponents are shooting only 41.2 percent against the Blue Devils, who have converted 72 percent of their free throws.

And this year's team plays the game distinctly from the outside in. Duke has averaged 15.8 three-pointers in 25.4 attempts overall. Against the ACC, they are shooting a whopping 44.7 percent from beyond the arc, making 12 threes a game while launching 26.5 attempts.

It all starts with Jason Williams (21.1 ppg), the sophomore star who appears bound for the NBA after this season. Williams is the most improved player in the land and maybe its best. No one combines a deadly outside shot with the ability to defend, penetrate a defense and pass as well as he.

Then there is Battier (19.4 ppg), the senior who can shoot from anywhere, play suffocating defense and rebound. He is the preseason pick for Player of the Year and whom Gary Williams has referred to as "the poster boy for college basketball."

Boozer is the bruiser. Dunleavy can beat you on the wing or going to the basket. James can score down low or up top. Freshman guard Chris Duhon (26.1 minutes, 5.5 assists per game) has given several starters invaluable rest, countering Duke's thin bench.

The Terps are counting on steady defense, strong rebounding and their 10-man rotation to wear down the Blue Devils. They are also hoping junior guard Juan Dixon, ready to go after suffering a bruised tailbone a week ago, can produce another heroic effort. Dixon, the team's leading scorer, burned Duke for 31 points in the victory a year ago.

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