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Ga. Tech in search of Terps' stability; Maryland has put maturity to good use


COLLEGE PARK -- Bobby Cremins couldn't precisely label the quality, but Georgia Tech presumably found the "it" he was looking for last Saturday.

Gary Williams has enjoyed the feeling all season.

The "it" Cremins tried to put his finger on is the proper mental approach necessary to steer the talent on a college basketball team. Whereas the young Yellow Jackets have been the most erratic team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland's maturity has made it among the most stable.

The two meet tonight (9 p.m.) at Cole Field House, where Maryland (16-2, 4-1) can match its best start ever.

The Terps are the only team in the conference that has had the same starting lineup every game. That includes three seniors who delivered in a crucial win five days ago at North Carolina that which elevated the Terps to No. 4 in the rankings and No. 3 in a replica of the ratings percentage index, the formula the NCAA uses to seed its tournament.

"Steve Francis is good, but he's young, because he's new to this level," Williams said, relating how his newcomers have been bolstered by his veterans. "Danny [Miller], Juan [Dixon], Lonny [Baxter], they're really good, but all of them are looking for somebody for guidance.

"They all go through situations where they don't know how to react. 'How will we react after the Duke game? How will the win at North Carolina affect us?' It's better to have guys who have been there, rather than the coach, telling the new guys they can't get too caught up in something. It means more if a player says it."

Because point guard Terrell Stokes, forward Laron Profit and center Obinna Ekezie have been there, done that, Maryland is in position to make a run at a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

As smooth as things have run for Williams, Cremins' team was discombobulated from the first day of practice in October, when Dion Glover, the fourth-leading scorer in the conference last season, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Georgia Tech (11-6, 2-3) has been totally unpredictable, a holiday loss to Hofstra coming four days after an upset of North Carolina. A 19-point loss at home to Florida State Jan. 9 "really, really bothered" Cremins, who then saw his team whip Wake Forest.

The Yellow Jackets start a freshman at the point, and Tony Akins has more turnovers (22) than assists (19) in ACC games. Forward Jason Collier is their leading scorer (17.3), but the 7-foot transfer from Indiana was ineligible the first six games. Jon Babul, the small forward, missed last season with a broken foot.

Maryland wants to pressure Akins, and attack the twin-tower combination of Collier and sophomore center Alvin Jones, who's averaging 4.4 blocks a game. Their matchups with Terence Morris and Ekezie, respectively, should be interesting.

The Terps easily solved the Yellow Jackets in their second meeting last season and again at the ACC tournament. Ekezie made 14 of his 21 shots in those two games. He's coming off maybe the best half of his career, scoring 19 after the break to propel Maryland past North Carolina. He wants to be assertive from the start this time.

"You have to attack him [Jones]," Ekezie said. "He doesn't like it when we get in his face. He's got a tremendous wingspan, and he can block shots from a distance. You can't give him space to get up and contest a shot. He gets frustrated when you take it right to him."

It's an approach that has worked all but twice for the Terps.

NOTES: Profit is the ACC Player of the Week for his 24-point, four-rebound, three-steal line at North Carolina. Maryland has won three straight in the conference, and it last won four straight ACC regular-season games in 1994-95. The Terps have beaten the Yellow Jackets five straight. Collier and Jones fouled out of Tech's win over Wake Forest.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Georgia Tech

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 9 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Tickets: Sold out Pub Date: 1/19/99

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