- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Juan Dixon vs. Joseph Forte.

Lonny Baxter vs. Brendan Haywood.

Gary Williams vs. Matt Doherty.

No. 14 Maryland vs. No. 9 North Carolina.

Star power will be glaring tonight when the Tar Heels come to Cole Field House to meet the Terps. The two titans bring lengthy winning streaks and loads of talent and depth into the ACC clash before a packed house and national TV audience. It was enough to bring hype master Dick Vitale to College Park for the first time this season.

"They are ranked higher than us," said Maryland forward Danny Miller, part of a deep bench. "We feel we deserve to be ranked higher. We have to go out and prove it."

North Carolina (11-2, 2-0 ACC) swaggers in with an eight-game winning streak, the latest on a last-second putback by Haywood for a 70-69 win over No. 6 Wake Forest. Maryland (11-3, 2-0) is riding a 10-game winning surge.

Although plenty of future NBA players will be on the scene, tonight's winner could be affected by two Tar Heels with possible NFL futures.

Julius Peppers, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound sophomore forward, is pondering whether to declare for the NFL Draft. Peppers (4.4 points, 4.2 rebounds), a major factor in the Tar Heels reaching last season's Final Four, led the nation in the fall with 15 sacks for North Carolina's football team.

Redshirt sophomore Ronald Curry, North Carolina's starting quarterback last season, has settled in as the starting point guard. The talented quarterback has used his ankle-twisting quickness and deft passing ability to give the Tar Heels stability at what was their biggest question mark coming into the season.

"We have gotten better with the addition of Ron Curry and Julius Peppers," said Doherty, who has maintained North Carolina's high stature in his first season in Chapel Hill. "They added physical maturity and mental maturity to our team and created more depth."

Curry, a 6-2 point guard from Hampton, Va., will be asked to absorb the bulk of Maryland's fullcourt press and frenetic smothering defense. The Terps' Steve Blake, who has been indecisive during ACC play, will be asked to guard the two-sport star.

"The key to them is Curry," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose team lost to both Maryland and North Carolina last week. "If he can find ways to break out of the press and get out of traps, it will lead to easy baskets."

The Terps will try to take advantage of their quickness and better depth to counteract North Carolina's size. Baxter, Maryland's 6-8, 260-pound center, will match up with the 7-foot Haywood, who is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. Baxter, who spent extensive time on the bench in the first two ACC games because of foul trouble, has a decided edge in speed and agility against the less-mobile Haywood.

"We're quicker than they are," said Baxter, who has made several bad fouls by reaching in and being out of position the last two games. "It will be a great advantage for us, just by running the floor and moving our feet."

The Tar Heels would prefer a slower game while feeding Haywood and 6-11 power forward Kris Lang. Maryland plans to play uptempo and take advantage of open-court opportunities for 6-9 power forward Terence Morris and small forward Byron Mouton.

"Morris is the key," said Doherty, 38, who coached at Notre Dame for one season before returning to his alma mater. "There is probably not another four-man [power forward] in the country that is as quick as he is. He's one of the most gifted players we'll see all year."

The best matchup will be at shooting guard with All-American candidates Dixon (18.5 points) and Forte (20.4 points), the league's second-leading scorer. The 6-3 Dixon has averaged 23.6 points over the past seven games, including a season-high 28 in the Terps' most recent win over Georgia Tech.

Forte, a 6-4 sophomore, was the catalyst in leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four last season. The DeMatha High School graduate has become the team's most potent weapon.

The Terps also would like to get into a battle of attrition to take advantage of their quality depth, including 7-footer Mike Mardesich and sharpshooting point guard Drew Nicholas.

"These are the times when you hopefully can use your bench like you have all year," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who uses a nine-player rotation. "To have a guy with Mardesich's size is a tremendous advantage. With him and [6-10 freshman] Chris [Wilcox] up against a guy like Peppers, it allows you to go four deep up front."

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