Maryland shooting for ACC double

Regular-season title, tourney crown would be a first for Terps

`We have a job to do now'

Top seed carries 12-game win streak into opener vs. FSU

March 08, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - They have negotiated a four-month grind and done nearly everything right while recording their school's best regular-season record. They have not lost in 50 days and are a certain No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that begins next week.

In the meantime, the second-ranked Maryland Terrapins would like to tune up for a run at their first national championship by making a little more history.

The Terps, fresh off winning their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title in 22 years, have not won an ACC tournament since 1984 and have never won both crowns in the same year. Maryland coach Gary Williams has not won a conference tournament in 24 seasons in four leagues. During 13 years in College Park, Williams has been to the ACC tournament title game once.

Starting with today's noon matchup against eighth-seeded Florida State at Charlotte Coliseum, the top-seeded Terps will assume their unusual position as tournament favorites. Maryland, which broke Duke's five-year run as regular-season champion, wants to break the Blue Devils' three-year title run in this setting and become the first school outside of North Carolina to win the tournament since Georgia Tech pulled it off nine years ago.

"Teams have been coming after us all year. There's no overlooking us. I guess we've done OK," said Williams, reflecting on Maryland's 25-3 record, which includes a best-ever 15-1 mark against the league and a current 12-game winning streak.

"You admire teams like Duke and the Carolinas of the past who have been up there for a long time. I guess you can get used to it, that each team you play comes after you as hard as they can. It's been interesting to watch a veteran team remain hungry, remain open with each other and be really unselfish."

The Terps looked relaxed and sounded confident yesterday after shooting around for an hour, starting with senior guard Juan Dixon, who is the first Maryland player since John Lucas to make the All-ACC first team and lead the Terps in scoring three straight seasons.

Dixon said it is time for the Terps to put last year's Final Four experience to postseason use.

"We're pretty anxious, but we got some rest this week, and we have a job to do now," Dixon said. "We remember what it takes to get back [to the Final Four]. It was destiny. We had a great team coming back this year. We had guys who could step up and lead the team. That's what we've been doing."

Said senior forward Byron Mouton: "The key is for us to have fun. That's what's been so great about this season. Everybody knows when it's time to play. Everybody knows when it's time to have fun."

Since losing exactly four months ago in their opener to Arizona, 71-67, on a night when Maryland missed eight of 12 free throws and got flustered by the Wildcats' zone defense, the Terps have conducted a party with few interruptions. Consider that Maryland already had lost three games by the end of November last season.

Should the next two days go as expected, Maryland would meet second-seeded Duke in Sunday's final. That would mark the seventh meeting between the schools over the past two seasons. It also would present the Terps with an opportunity to build on last month's 14-point victory over the Blue Devils and confirm Maryland as the team to beat in its league. For a change.

Not that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is buying into such talk.

"We live in a world where we have, for the last four or five years, been a team that's been the hunted," he said. "We've never assumed that there's any other role."

The Terps have adapted to that role like never before under Williams. After beginning the season ranked No. 2, they slipped out of the top five briefly after losing at Oklahoma on Dec. 21. But since the early part of 2002, Maryland has been ranked no lower than fourth and has acted like it belongs among the nation's elite.

Maryland leads the ACC in assists, field-goal percentage defense, three-point field-goal percentage and blocked shots. The Terps rank second in scoring offense, scoring margin and field-goal percentage, all behind Duke.

Maryland has the leading assist man in point guard Steve Blake, the top free-throw shooter and second-leading scorer in Dixon, the leading shot-blocker in Lonny Baxter, and the most dynamic X-factor in sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, whose second NCAA tournament could be his swan song before leaving early for the NBA draft.

Williams continued to marvel at his team's calm in the face of high expectations and week-to-week pressure.

"That didn't come from me. I think it came from the seniors. They know what they have to do to turn it on when it's time to play," said Williams, who said nothing that happens in Charlotte could taint what the Terps achieved through their first 28 games.

"Dean Smith used to say at the league meetings that the most important thing to him was winning the regular-season championship, because it was a true test over two months," he said. "I'm really proud of the way we played through the ACC season. No one can take that away from us."

Terps today

ACC tournament

Matchup: No. 1 seed Maryland (25-3) vs. No. 8 seed Florida State (12-16) in quarterfinals

Site: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum

Time: Noon

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

Line: Maryland by 17

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.