- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

Gary Williams never has been one to disguise his emotions. The last few days, he hasn't even tried. The Maryland coach is as juiced as anyone else that one of the nation's most compelling college basketball rivalries will be renewed today at Cole Field House.
"We're playing at home. Let's go let's bring it on," Williams said of the eagerly awaited clash between top-ranked Duke and No.3 Maryland. This is only the second time the Terrapins have played host to a matchup between teams ranked in the top three. The other was in 1973, when David Thompson led No.2 N.C. State to an 87-85 victory over third-ranked Maryland.
Before big games like this, Williams often takes a moment to savor the situation. He recalls beginning his coaching career in 1968 with the junior varsity at an inner-city high school in Camden, N.J., where he also drove the bus to road games.
"I never forget that," said Williams, 56. "It [had] one of those old stick shifts … on the floor. So if you lost [a game], you really jerked that baby so [the players would] fall out of the seats. Then all of a sudden you are playing the No.1 team in the country at Cole Field House … That all goes into this game for me personally."
Williams is driving a different kind of vehicle this season, and there hasn't been much jerking as the Terps steer their way toward their first No.1 seed in next month's NCAA tournament. Maryland has a 20-3 record, is 10-1 in the ACC for the first time and is in position to finish the regular season atop the league by itself for the first time since 1980.
Of course, that road goes through the defending national champion Blue Devils (21-1, 11-1 ACC), who have won four straight in College Park. Maryland hasn't downed Duke at home since 1997, although it has a 63-3 home record.
"We can't wait to get up there," said Duke center Carlos Boozer, who had 32 points in Thursday's victory over N.C. State. "Having them in our conference gives us the ability to see how good we really are."
The Blue Devils won in Cole last season in the notorious "Gone in 54 seconds" game, when Maryland blew a 10-point lead in the final minute before losing in overtime. The Terps gained revenge by winning at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Senior Night. But Duke re-established its dominance by eliminating the Terps from the ACC tournament and the Final Four.
The Blue Devils made it three in a row last month, when Jason Williams totaled 34 points and eight assists and Mike Dunleavy scored 19 second-half points as Duke turned a tight first half into a 99-78 blowout.
A key in Duke's final visit to Cole, which will be replaced by a new facility next season, could be the latest duel between star guards Juan Dixon and Jason Williams. This riveting rivalry started two seasons ago, when Dixon scored 31 points as Maryland ended the Blue Devils' 46-game winning streak at Cameron.
"We're not cocky, but we have a lot of confidence," said Dixon, who was held to 10 points by Dahntay Jones in this season's first meeting. "This is our homecourt. We have the advantage, and we have to take advantage of it."
Maryland has won seven straight and 12 of 13, with its only loss coming at Duke.
"We just weren't mentally tough in the second half," said small forward Byron Mouton, a senior playing the best basketball of his career and averaging 16.4 points over the last five games. "I think we'll be more mentally tough this time. It's at home. We tried to do stuff one-on-one [last time], but we realize when we run our plays and be real focused, we are a great team."
Said Williams: "This is why you are a college basketball player. This is why you go to the ACC to play games like this. It really is. You can't get these games everywhere you go to school. You can get them here though."
Increased security will be in place for the game, particularly around the visitor's bench. Last season three mothers of Duke players were struck when debris was thrown from the student sections following the Blue Devils' victory. That prompted Maryland to ban the throwing of any objects, ending the ritual of tossing balled-up newspapers toward the opposing bench before games. Security cameras also will be in place, and the first five rows of the student section behind the Duke bench have been assigned to select university groups.
"There is never a guarantee," said Maryland assistant athletic director Rob Mullens. "One single person might do something wrong. We have put together a comprehensive plan designed to ensure things will go in a proper, sportsmanship manner."…
In a somewhat controversial move, former Maryland star Steve Francis will have his jersey retired and raised to the rafters in a pregame ceremony. The Houston Rockets' NBA All-Star led the Terps to a 28-6 record in 1998-99, his only season in College Park. Francis has not graduated, though he does take courses at Maryland over the summer.
"With Steve, it's not only for what he did here but also for what he has done since he left school," Williams said of Francis, who is often seen around Cole in the offseason. "And how he has been with the [Maryland] players, too. He really gives the players honest answers about the NBA. Steve has been really good. It was just one year [he played], but it was a great year."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide