Facing Tech, Terps resist urge to look ahead

UM says focus is Jackets, not next foe, No. 2 Duke

College Basketball

January 13, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - This is a game that gives a talented, veteran team a chance to show its maturity.

The No. 4 Maryland Terrapins should not have a problem disposing of unranked Georgia Tech today at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Maryland is older, bigger, stronger, and figures to dominate the struggling Yellow Jackets inside. The Terps are playing some of the best defense in the country, and they have seasoned guards in Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, who should at least neutralize Georgia Tech's solid tandem of Tony Akins and Marvin Lewis.

Beyond what appears to be a lopsided matchup against Georgia Tech (7-9, 0-3), a team that starts a freshman and two sophomores up front and has lost four of its past five games, the Terps are determined to think only in the present. Fresh off their exhilarating 112-79 blowout over North Carolina, they are telling themselves not to peek forward at the Big Road Trip to come.

That would be a visit to Durham on Thursday against No. 2 Duke to renew one of the game's spiciest rivalries.

"We have Georgia Tech ahead of us. We have to win against Georgia Tech and that's pretty much all we're going to talk about," junior guard Drew Nicholas said. "We have to be mature about it.

"Right now, our biggest game is Georgia Tech. By Sunday at 6 o'clock, Duke will be our biggest game of the season. We know we have a chance to win every game we play, and that's what we're striving to do. We just have to make sure we go [to Atlanta] and take care of our business."

Not that the Terps (12-2, 2-0), winners of four straight, are lacking in motivation today. The last time Maryland won at Georgia Tech was in 1999, and the Terps were particularly bad in Atlanta last Feb. 6, when they committed 23 turnovers and managed only 22 points in the second half of a 72-62 defeat. Akins torched Maryland for 28 points that night.

This Maryland team is a different animal, feeding off last year's first trip to the Final Four with a sense of purpose and a mean streak. The Terps have won a rough-and-tumble affair at surprising North Carolina State and destroyed one of the worst North Carolina teams in decades - the same Tar Heels, by the way, who beat Georgia Tech six weeks ago.

Maryland coach Gary Williams wants the Terps to remember last year's embarrassing show in Georgia. And he wants the Terps to continue to defend the way they have virtually all season, particularly on the perimeter, where the Yellow Jackets live and die.

Georgia Tech is averaging 22 three-point attempts per game, with nearly 12 of those coming from Akins and Lewis. They have combined to average 29.4 points and shoot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc.

"We have to play good defense against the three-point shot," Williams said. "If a team is willing to take 30 or 40 threes and they can make 13 or 14 of them, you're talking about 40 points.

"You can't look past anybody in our league. We shouldn't [be looking ahead to Duke]. Each game counts as one, especially a road game in our league. Young teams should play better at home. Veteran teams should be pretty consistent."

The Terps are starting to look a tad scary. They should be frightening against the Yellow Jackets, who probably have no answer for the four-man, front-court rotation of Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle.

Baxter reported no swelling in his recently sprained ankle after playing 24 minutes against Carolina, and will start again today. Wilcox is a matchup problem for most good teams. Randle is improving rapidly. Holden has adjusted smoothly to his bench role.

Dixon said Maryland needs to keep doing what it is doing. The Terps are ranked first in the Atlantic Coast Conference in field-goal percentage defense (.368), three-point defense (.271) and blocked shots (7.43). The Terps lead the conference in average assists (19.43) and assist/turnover ratio (1.32). They are averaging 94.8 points during their four-game winning streak."[Georgia Tech] is coming off a tough loss [at Duke], and they are going to be ready to play," said Dixon, who is second in the league in scoring (18.8) and leads the ACC in steals with 3.29 per game.

"I think we're focused. We've got to bring the same intensity we had against North Carolina. If we go out there and play at our level, I don't think those guys will be able to play with us."

Terps today

Opponent: Georgia Tech

Site: Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Atlanta

Time: 2 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 10

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