Hot Terps, Hotlanta good fit

ACC tourney being outside N.C. is plus for Maryland, riding a five-game surge

March 05, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Things are breaking just right for Maryland coach Gary Williams.

His Terrapins (20-9, 10-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) are as hot as any team in the country, and now, for a change, Williams does not have to go to the state of North Carolina for the ACC tournament.

Rather the Terps, the tournament's No. 3 seed, will go to Atlanta and face Wake Forest at 9:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome. He couldn't be more pleased.

"Of course, we are going back to North Carolina the next three years," Williams said in the wake of his team's 102-67 thrashing of seventh-ranked Virginia on Saturday, the most lopsided win over a ranked opponent in school history. "But the great thing is, they sold 40,000 tickets already. It is going to be wild down there. I think it's good for the league. It gives us a different look."... We'll see how this goes. It might be great. Maybe they'll play it out of the state of North Carolina every year."

North Carolina, despite losing, 95-81, to Duke yesterday and dropping three of its past five, will be the top seed followed by the Blue Devils. The fourth-ranked Tar Heels, who split the ACC regular-season title with second-ranked Duke, will play the winner of Florida State-Clemson on Friday, and Duke will play North Carolina State. Virginia and Georgia Tech will meet in the other quarterfinal.

Of all those teams, the 16th-ranked Terps, who could find themselves back in the Top 10 today, are the ones that come into the tournament blazing. Maryland has won its past five games, four against ranked teams.

The first of those games came at Wake Forest and by 16 points. Maryland also won the previous meeting at Cole Field House on Jan. 17 by 10.

Should the Terps survive what is sure to be a desperate Wake Forest team -- on the bubble for the NCAA tournament at 19-9 (8-8 in the ACC) -- then a rubber match with the Blue Devils, who will be without center Carlos Boozer for the ACC tournament, is likely.

And judging by the way the Terps are playing, probably wanted. "I think we are peaking at the right time," guard Juan Dixon said. "I think every team would love to peak at this time."

As would teams love to have Maryland's hot bench now. Backup point guard Drew Nicholas put up 16 points and 10 assists Saturday, while Tahj Holden's seven points (including two critical free throws late) and Danny Miller's seven points helped do in Duke on Tuesday.

The Blue Devils' convincing win at North Carolina yesterday makes Maryland's 11-point win at Cameron Indoor Stadium last week that much more impressive. It was a win that avenged an earlier and infamous 98-96 overtime loss to Duke at Cole Field House in which Maryland blew a 10-point lead with 54 seconds left in regulation.

With the regular season over, Williams looked back on that game and acknowledged the negative effect it had on his team. The Terps lost four of their next five before the current winning streak.

That game was rebroadcast at least three times on ESPN Classic. But the Terps' team that fell apart the last minute of that game is a far cry from the one that buried the Cavaliers on Saturday.

"We lost a game on national television that people made such a big deal over that it was tough to get away from," Williams said. "The players watch ESPN and they watch the advertisements every night that that game was an "Instant Classic." And our game down at Duke will be an "Instant Classic" next week, I guess."

Williams knows that won't happen. But it doesn't matter because the Terps seem poised to accomplish far greater things than that.

"I think right now we are playing our best basketball," Miller said. "We just have to make sure that we keep things going."

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