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SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- As teammates and best friends who shared the backcourt for three years at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C., Matt Kovarik and Milton Williams often talked about playing college basketball somewhere together.

"We would have liked to, but it just didn't work out," Kovarik said yesterday. "But I think we both ended up at places that have been good for us."

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After being recruited by a couple of the same in-state schools, it was their height differential that was probably as big a factor as any in Kovarik (6 feet 5, 185 pounds) winding up at the University of Maryland and the 6-foot, 175-pound Williams going to Loyola College.

"It was a strange twist," recalled their coach, Robin Lincks. "Initially, Milt got all the headlines and attention and Matt got left a little behind. In the end, Matt got more of the publicity and got recruited by an ACC school."

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Their careers have taken another twist this season. After backing up Tracy Bergan as a freshman, Williams has become part of first-year coach Brian Ellerbe's three-guard lineup. Meanwhile, Kovarik has struggled and has seen his playing time decrease behind Duane Simpkins.

The two sophomores will have their second on-court reunion tonight, when the No. 11 Terrapins (2-1) play host to the Greyhounds (1-0) at 8 o'clock at Cole Field House. Neither figured prominently in the first meeting: each played 10 minutes in a 94-71 victory for Maryland.

"It'll be different, we'll definitely be playing more," Milton Williams said last night after practice.

Certainly Williams will. He played 31 minutes in Loyola's 79-76 season-opening win over William and Mary. He made only one of 10 shots from the field, but Williams pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds, scored seven points and led the Greyhounds with five assists.

"He's a big part of our team," said Ellerbe, a former point guard at Rutgers. "He's added a dimension of intensity on the floor. He's a real key to our defense. He's gotten the chance [to start] and he's come through."

Kovarik is merely looking for another chance to show that the positive flashes from a mostly satisfying freshman year were not a fluke, that he can be a productive, if not front-line, player for a upper-level Atlantic Coast Conference team.

Though he didn't burst onto the scene like Joe Smith or Keith Booth did last year, Kovarik quietly and efficiently fit in. Playing a limited role, Kovarik hit 15 of his first 23 shots in Maryland's first 13 games. He made a triumphant homecoming in helping the Terps beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"I think he proved he was good enough to play in the ACC," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who seems befuddled by Kovarik's lackluster play this season.

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"I thought Matt, off of last year, would step up and be a factor for us this year. He came here trying to prove he could play and he did. I thought he got that out of his system. I expected some pretty good things. For our team to get better, we need to develop a bench, and Matt is a big part of that."

Said Kovarik, who played only eight minutes in last week's three-game Maui Invitational, "I was struggling for a week or two, but I've tried to put that behind me. I've thought about why I've played this way. I've thought about it long and hard, but I can't figure it out. I'm trying to go back to last year, and play more aggressively."

After playing tentatively in Maryland's two exhibitions and in the team's season-opening victory over Division II Chaminade in Hawaii, then not playing at all against Utah in the second round, Kovarik took a step in the right direction in the team's 97-90 loss to Arizona State in the championship game.

Kovarik played only three minutes against the Sun Devils, but he took a couple of shots (hitting a long jumper) and making one turnover. But Gary Williams saw progress in Kovarik's effort.

"The big thing with Matt is that he has to be aggressive," Williams said yesterday. "In his position, it doesn't matter how many he can score. But against Arizona State, he got us into our offense and he played better defense."

Watching at home and again with his Loyola teammates in preparation for tonight's game, Milton Williams understands what his former high school buddy is going through. It took him awhile to adjust last season before getting his chance when he started six games while Bergan was sidelined with academic problems.

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"This is so much different than high school," said Milton Williams, who made two critical steals and a couple of free throws in helping seal Loyola's comeback victory over Manhattan in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game that earned the Greyhounds a berth in the NCAA tournament. "There's so much pressure. You worry about making mistakes. But Matt can handle it."

Just like he -- and they -- did together back at Grimsley High School.

MEN'S TOP 25

The top 25 men's basketball teams in the Associated Press poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Sunday, total points (based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote) and ranking in last week's poll:

No. School .. .. .. .. .. ..Record .. .. ..Pts .. ..Pvs

1. Massachusetts (58) .. .. ..1-0 .. .. ..1,616 .. ..3

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2. North Carolina (6) .. .. ..1-0 .. .. ..1,506 .. ..2

3. Kentucky (1) .. .. .. .. ..1-0 .. .. ..1,441 .. ..4

4. Arkansas .. .. .. .. .. ...1-1 .. .. ..1,406 .. ..1

5. UCLA .. .. .. .. .. .. ....1-0 .. .. ..1,322 .. ..6

6. Duke .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .2-0 .. .. ..1,256 .. ..8

7. Kansas .. .. .. .. .. .. ..1-0 .. .. ..1,165 .. ..9

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8. Florida .. .. .. .. .. .. .1-0 .. .. ..1,094 .. .10

9. Arizona .. .. .. .. .. .. .2-1 .. .. .. .988 .. ..5

10. Cincinnati .. .. .. .. ...1-0 .. .. .. .975 .. .12

11. Maryland .. .. .. .. .. ..2-1 .. .. .. .934 .. ..7

12. Arizona St. .. .. ... .. .3-0 .. .. .. .793 .. .--

13. Wisconsin .. .. .. .. .. .1-0 .. .. .. .709 .. .15

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14. Ohio U. .. .. .. .. .. ...4-0 .. .. .. .689 .. .23

15. Minnesota .. .. .. .. .. .3-0 .. .. .. .623 .. .--

16. Connecticut .. ... .. .. .1-0 .. .. .. .610 .. .16

17. Michigan .. .. .. .. .. ..2-1 .. .. .. .474 .. .13

18. Michigan St. .. .. .. .. .0-0 .. .. .. .460 .. .17

19. Georgetown .. .. .. .. ...0-1 .. .. .. .361 .. .14

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20. Georgia Tech .. .. .. .. .1-0 .. .. .. .344 .. .22

21. Wake Forest .. .. .. .. ..1-0 .. .. .. .285 .. .24

22. Syracuse .. .. .. .. .. ..0-1 .. .. .. .266 .. .18

23. Virginia .. .. .. .. .. ..1-1 .. .. .. .253 .. .20

24. Villanova .. .. .. .. .. .2-1 .. .. .. .215 .. .21

25. New Mexico St. .. .. .. ..3-1 .. .. .. .175 .. .--

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Others receiving votes: Indiana 135, Brigham Young 114, Illinois 106, Texas 102, Tulane 102, George Washington 97, Alabama 71, Purdue 71, Oklahoma St. 64, Mississippi St. 51, Texas Tech 45, Iowa St. 43, St. John's 31, Temple 25 1-0, Utah 19, LSU 17, California 13, Memphis 13, Western Kentucky 13, Florida St. 8, N.C. Charlotte 7, Louisville 5, St. Louis 4, Oklahoma 3, Boston College 2, Boise St. 1, Coppin St. 1, DePaul 1, Virginia Tech 1.


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