Terps are wary despite FSU skid

UM's focus remains on strong ACC finish

February 27, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida State Seminoles are adrift again, in the grip of a losing streak that has knocked them out of contention in the Atlantic Coast Conference and made them locks to miss another NCAA tournament.

And the second-ranked Maryland Terrapins, who are rolling toward their first outright ACC regular-season title in 22 years and their first No. 1 seed in next month's national tournament, are well aware of the potential danger facing them tonight at the Leon County Civic Center.

Three days removed from a hair-raising, 90-89 victory over visiting Wake Forest, which, by far, put up the most formidable challenge to Maryland's perfect record at home, the Terps are preach- ing a healthy respect for the free-falling Seminoles.

Never mind that Florida State has dropped seven of its past eight games. The Seminoles were good enough to shock then-No. 1 Duke in early January in Tallahassee. Never mind that Maryland has won 11 of its past 12 meetings with the Seminoles, including the past four at Florida State. The Terps feel they can't afford a misstep with Duke at their heels and must top off their best run through the league with a 15-1 record.

Never mind that, since that loss to Florida State just over a year ago - which happened to be the last time it stumbled at home - Maryland has a 33-5 record and a Final Four appearance under its belt.

The Terps, who will close out the Cole Field House era and the regular season on Sunday against Virginia, look at this road trip and see talented players like senior guards Delvon Arrington and Monte Cummings and promising youngsters like freshman forward Anthony Richardson and sophomore forward Michael Joiner. And Maryland sees an opponent that has no reason not to play fast and loose.

"Florida State beat Duke there, and it's going to be hostile," Maryland forward Byron Mouton said. "We have to go in there and be real focused. We've got to be prepared against Florida State, because we know they are going to be prepared against us."

"It has nothing to do with Duke," Terps point guard Steve Blake added. "We just know that Florida State can do some pretty good things when they're playing well. They did some good things against us the first time we played them."

So did Maryland, which is 23-3 for the first time in school history and has won 10 straight games.

When they met the Seminoles in College Park on Jan. 26, the Terps nearly got the first triple double of the Gary Williams era from senior guard Juan Dixon. That day, the Terps put together one of their patented second-half bursts, turning a six-point halftime lead into a 25-point bulge with eight minutes to go, as Maryland cruised to an 84-63 victory.

With that, the Seminoles (11-14, 4-10) began a six-game losing streak that changed what once appeared to be a promising season. They likely will suffer their fourth consecutive losing season and miss their fourth straight NCAA tournament.

"We had so many opportunities to get where we needed to go. It's heartbreaking for a lot of us, especially the seniors," said Arrington, the fifth-year senior point guard. "I've been here the longest, and I'm not going to be able to tell anyone that I made it to the NCAA tournament in my career.

"I look at Maryland as a team that has all the goods. They have superstars, role players, guys who just get it done. They can go inside and outside. They have good chemistry. It's easier to give up than to keep trying. We're battling for sixth place in the ACC. Our last two games are at home. We have nothing left to lose anymore."

If Dixon and Blake dominate Arrington and Cummings (team-high 15.2 ppg) the way they did on Jan. 26, Florida State likely has no chance. The Terps have a decided advantage up front with center Lonny Baxter, forward Chris Wilcox and Mouton, who is enjoying the most productive stretch of his career. In his past eight games, Mouton is averaging 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds.

One more time, Maryland will try to block out a host of distractions, whether it's looking ahead to that last, emotional game at Cole Field House, or contemplating conference titles, high tournament seeds or a national championship. Tonight, the Terps will try to become the first team in school history to finish 7-1 on the road in the ACC.

"We're trying to keep it like we have during the whole season, where you just play, and if you win, you keep building," Williams said. "I think our players have focused really well on the job at hand. If you take away from your preparation, you might lose a game or two that could really affect your season."

NOTES: The Terps have won only two outright ACC regular-season crowns, in 1980 and 1975. They split a four-way tie in 1995. ... Dixon needs 117 points to break the school scoring record held by Len Bias (2,149). Dixon needs 26 points to catch Albert King (2,058) in second place. ... Maryland has won at least 20 games in six straight seasons and is two wins shy of its fourth 25-victory season, another first.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Florida State

Site: Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.

Time: 9

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 12

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