UM braces for Round 2

No. 3 Terps encounter No. 1 Blue Devils for second time in month

Winner cuts out ACC edge

UM feeling `capable' of turning around 0-4 home skid to Duke


College Basketball

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

COLLEGE PARK - Imagine the level of electricity that will be surging through muggy, venerable, soon-to-be-closed Cole Field House today.

Imagine if the next installment of the Duke-Maryland series that has become the most riveting rivalry in college basketball lives up to the hype.

Here we go again.

For the second time in a month, it's the top-ranked Duke men facing No. 3 Maryland, this time on the Terrapins' turf, this time with an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title basically riding on the outcome.

It's the class of the ACC and, with the possible exception of No. 2 Kansas, the top two heavyweights in the nation trading punches one more time on national television. It's two teams that could combine rosters and form an All-America squad.

Maryland coach Gary Williams pretty much has seen it all in 24 seasons at four different schools, in four different conferences. But even an old hand like Williams, who is one year removed from his first Final Four - where his Terps lost to Duke in the fourth meeting last season between the two schools - gave reflective pause, as another huge date with the defending national champion Blue Devils loomed.

"It's great to be able to coach at this level, when you start out as a JV high school coach. This is pretty neat, and I never forget that," Williams said. "I drove a school bus for a little while. It was one of those old yellow school buses where the stick shift was in the floor. If you lost, you really jerked that baby so [the players] would fall out of their seats.

"Then, all of a sudden, you're playing the No. 1 team in the country at Cole Field House. This is why you put in all of that time [as a coach]. This is why you're a college basketball player, why you go to the ACC, to play in games like this. You can't get these games everywhere you go to school. You can get them here, though."

This could be the last true barn-burner played at Cole. It marks only the second time that Maryland and an opponent have met as top-three teams in College Park, and it figures to be a preview of next month's ACC tournament championship game in Charlotte, N.C., and possibly another Final Four bout during the season's final weekend.

With a victory, Maryland (20-3, 10-1), which has matched the 1974-75 team with the best 23-game start in school history, would move past Duke into first place, would be in excellent position to earn the school's first outright conference title since 1980, and could vault over Kansas to earn its first-ever No. 1 ranking.

Duke (23-1, 11-1), which has won the past five league crowns, basically would clinch another title and end what has become a two-team ACC race.

The Terps have beaten Duke only six times during Williams' 13 seasons at Maryland, including twice in back-to-back trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2000 and 2001. Maryland, 12-0 at Cole this season, has lost its past four home games against Duke.

And the Terps will never forget their last Duke downer at home. That was the infamous come-from-ahead collapse in the final 54 seconds nearly 13 months ago, as Maryland blew a 10-point lead before losing in overtime. The mother of Duke center Carlos Boozer was hit in the head with a plastic water bottle in a post-game incident to boot.

"We know we're capable of beating those guys," said Maryland senior guard Juan Dixon. "This year, we have to finish them off."

First, Maryland must stay close, which the Terps failed to do a month ago after engaging the Blue Devils in a scintillating first half that featured 25 lead changes. But Duke, led by its power trio of guard Jason Williams, Boozer and swing forward Mike Dunleavy, scored 51 second-half points, pulled away over the game's final seven minutes and blew out Maryland, 99-78.

"Sometimes, your best defense doesn't stop [Duke], so you have to continue to score," said Williams, who watched Maryland's attack fade last month amid turnovers and missed shots.

That means Dixon, who was held to a season-low 10 points, mainly on the strength of smothering defense by Duke small forward Dahntay Jones, must bounce back with a more typical performance. Dixon also is coming off a 6-for-19 shooting night, in which he missed all nine of his three-point attempts, in Wednesday's 85-65 victory over Georgia Tech.

That means forward Byron Mouton and reserve guard Drew Nicholas, who have improved remarkably since the last Duke loss, must continue to shoot the ball with the success they have enjoyed lately. Mouton is averaging 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in his past five games.

The Terps think they can wear down Duke up front, with their front-court rotation of Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle. They might be right.

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