To Blake, J. Williams, rivalry is beside point

Winning team matchup supersedes personal war for 2 top point guards

ACC Tournament

March 11, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Their rivalry took shape in high school, when a pair of underrated point guards named Jason Williams and Steve Blake were trying to make names for themselves at various summer camps. It developed even more when they were college freshmen, Williams at Duke and Blake at Maryland.

This year, it became even more intense.

It became, in fact, the best head-to-head matchup of point guards in college basketball.

It was on display again yesterday in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. After splitting regular-season games for the second straight season, Williams got the edge for the second straight time in the postseason for one simple reason.

His team won, 84-82.

Their styles are as different as the statistics they produced: Williams scoring 19 points on 7-for-20 shooting; Blake finishing with five points and a game-high 11 assists, but also six turnovers.

Williams helped the Blue Devils build a 14-point lead early in the second half with a bunch of three-point shots - each seemingly deeper than the one before - before Blake helped the Terrapins make a terrific comeback that saw them tie the game at 82 on his three-point shot with 8.1 seconds left.

It seems that Williams and Blake are about the only ones not to recognize how special their rivalry has become.

"I'm not thinking about who I'm playing against, I'm only concerned about whether my team wins," said Williams.

Said Blake: "I just look at him as another point guard I'm playing against. He's better than a lot of other guards."

But others see its intensity, and the fact that Blake seems to raise his game the moment he steps on the court with Williams.

"You're always trying to prove yourself against the marquee players," said Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski, the former Cardinal Gibbons star who often found himself in that position during his early Blue Devils days. "They're both very competitive. It's just a war between them."

This year's games between Duke and Maryland served to bring their rivalry to the forefront.

Blake badly outplayed Williams in the first meeting at Cole Field House, finishing with 11 points and nine assists, but when he fouled out late in regulation, it opened the door for his team's infamous collapse, for Williams to go on a scoring binge and for the Blue Devils to win 98-96 in overtime.

Williams played poorly in the second meeting as well, finishing with 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting, and Blake scored 11 points and had 11 assists in Maryland's 91-80 victory. He left Cameron Indoor Stadium flashing the victory sign to taunted Duke fans, the two fingers signifying the second straight Terps win in Durham, N.C.

"He's just the kind of guy who raises his game against better players," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "He's very competitive and he likes to compete against Jason."

Yesterday's game began with Blake planting a forehand on his counterpart's forehead in the opening minutes of the game, and Williams swatting it away. Things heated up early in the second half, when Williams stepped out to about 25 feet to bury a couple of threes with Blake guarding him. Blake seemed to get the last lick when he nailed his late three before Duke won it.

Asked whether he believes it's the best college point guard rivalry, Williams said, "I guess that's what a lot of people are saying."

If Williams returns for his junior year, as he has promised, the rivalry could get even more heated since Blake will likely take more of a scoring role for the Terrapins.

"He's a player who looks to score first and then pass. I try to set up my teammates and take the shot if it's there," said Blake. "That's the role I'm being asked to play and I enjoy it."

What he doesn't enjoy is losing - to Williams or anyone else.

Especially in the semifinals of the ACC tournament for the second straight year.

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