UM, Devils set to duke it out

No. 3 visits No. 1 as ACC's top rivalry takes to court again

College Basketball

January 17, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

DURHAM, N.C. - On the surface, tonight's invasion of top-ranked Duke by the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins serves as a midseason clash between two elite programs that might not count for much in the bigger picture yet to unfold under the postseason glare of March.

Scratch the surface, though, and everything changes. Look for a tournament-game charge in the air at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where two fierce, supremely talented rivals who measure themselves against each other will renew an association that has become one of the most compelling in the collegiate game.

Move over, North Carolina. The Duke Blue Devils have a new enemy No. 1, and it dwells in College Park. Let the renewal begin, before a raucous, packed house and a national television audience.

"I can't wait to play," Maryland senior small forward Byron Mouton said. "It's funny. People talk about Duke-North Carolina, but I think more people talk about Duke-Maryland now. It's real cool. Everybody always tells us to beat Duke, no matter what we do. I'm looking forward to it. Everybody is looking forward to it."

Said Duke junior center Carlos Boozer: "When the schedule comes out, certain games you just point to. Maryland is one of those games. Look at some of the games we've played in the last few years."

Where to begin with the subplots?

The Terps (13-2, 3-0) and the Blue Devils (14-1, 3-1) fashioned a season-within-a-season a year ago by squaring off four times, with Duke winning three games. In each game, the winner trailed at the half.

It began with Duke erasing a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds on Jan. 27 at Cole Field House before winning in overtime. It continued with Maryland evening the score a month later in Durham, which was merely a warmup for the ACC tournament semifinals, where the Blue Devils blew a 14-point, second-half lead before winning on a last-second, tip-in by Nate James - but not before a 45-foot heave by Terps guard Juan Dixon barely missed at the buzzer.

That day, former Duke great Shane Battier told Dixon they would meet again in the Final Four, and Battier proved to be a prophet. In the NCAA tournament semifinals in Minneapolis, Maryland built a 22-point, first-half lead, only to fade in the face of Duke's talent and some questionable officiating, before losing by a 95-84 count. The Blue Devils went on to win their third national title under Mike Krzyzewski two nights later against Arizona.

The Terps, who could achieve their first-ever No. 1 ranking and take a step toward winning their first undisputed Atlantic Coast Conference title under coach Gary Williams with a victory tonight, are one of the few teams that inspires a level of respect that approaches fear among the Blue Devils.

Duke has won the past three ACC tournaments and past five regular-season ACC crowns. Over that span, the Blue Devils are 74-9 against the league and 61-4 overall at home.

Two of those losses, however, have come against Maryland, which is one of only four schools to win at Cameron in back-to-back years. A victory tonight would make the Terps the first team to drop Duke at home three straight times since Wake Forest did it on five occasions from 1993 to 1997 during the Tim Duncan years.

"We easily could have swept those guys last year. We let a couple of games slip through our fingers," said Dixon, the reigning ACC Player of the Week who almost single-handedly beat Georgia Tech on Sunday with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and a key steal and assist in the final 30 seconds.

"Since I've been here, [the rivalry] has been pretty intense. I don't think it's hate. I think we have the utmost respect for each other," he added. "It starts with the coaches. They're both intense, and they motivate their guys to play hard. You see Duke, you always want to perform at your best. We know we can play with those guys. We think we owe those guys."

Dixon has made Cameron his personal stage during Maryland's two-year run. Two years ago, he dropped 31 points on Duke to push Maryland to victory. Last year, his 28 points, coupled with a second-half foot injury to Boozer, led to a 91-80 win.

Where to begin with the matchups?

There is Dixon, the ACC's second-leading scorer and one of its premier defenders, and Duke's Jason Williams, the junior guard who leads the league in scoring and is capable of beating teams by himself. Williams scored eight points during a 14-second span in the "Gone In 54 Seconds" game.

Will Maryland junior point guard Steve Blake, who has had some of his best nights defending Williams, play another trump card on the junior Player of the Year candidate?

The game probably will come down to which team can impose its will upon the other. The Terps, led by center Lonny Baxter and forwards Chris Wilcox and Tahj Holden, clearly have an edge up front, where Duke tends to get outrebounded while often going with a smaller guard-oriented lineup.

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