Duke looms, but Terps focus first on Wake; Williams: Second half to be tougher for streaking UM


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Maryland has had its Dukes up for nearly four weeks now, and played an excellent Brand of basketball. The Terps have bedeviled the opposition and racked up six straight wins, staying one step behind the higher power in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Sorry. We're not supposed to mention that team.

The Terps begin the second half of their ACC schedule today against Wake Forest here. Coach Gary Williams met the media alone two days ago, and not just because he wanted his players to settle in for the start of the second semester.

"I want them to concentrate on this Wake Forest game and not get questions about future games," Williams said.

He didn't even speak the name Duke. The Terps face Elton Brand and company Wednesday in Durham, and the Blue Devils could turn a two-team race into a one-team affair if Maryland (19-2, 7-1) doesn't keep taking care of business like it has since the Blue Devils ripped the Terps by 18 Jan. 3.

With No. 3 Stanford's loss Thursday to Arizona, No. 4 Maryland figures to move up one spot with a win today, which would match its second-best ACC streak.

Six times the Terps have been favored, and six straight times they have won, whether it was in a romp (N.C. State and Florida State), by pulling away (North Carolina and Georgia Tech) or going right down to the wire (Clemson and Virginia).

"It's going to get tougher as we get into the second half of the ACC season," Williams said. "Teams that aren't ranked are still in position, if they win four or five in a row, to make the [NCAA] tournament. The meaning of beating somebody ranked becomes larger for them."

Wake Forest (11-9, 2-6) is presumably not among that group of bubble wannabes. The Demon Deacons trailed Maryland by 38 points in a Dec. 3 blowout at Cole Field House, and things haven't gotten better, as Dave Odom's team has lost five straight conference games.

While sophomore guard Robert O'Kelley has struggled with the attention opponents have paid him, Maryland foes don't know who to target anymore. The Terps are the only team with three ACC Players of the Week, and Williams' weapons don't end with Steve Francis, Laron Profit and Terence Morris.

"We've proven that our balance is going to be there," Williams said.

A team's shooting percentages are supposed to diminish during the rigors of a major conference schedule, but Maryland has actually improved its figures since the Duke loss.

During their six-game win streak, the Terps have made 53.4 percent of their field-goal attempts. In the last five games, they've knocked down 43.2 percent of their three-pointers, and 80.7 percent of their free throws. Williams couldn't remember one of his previous nine Maryland teams being on a similar shooting roll.

"Players are getting open looks, and part of that comes from our willingness to get the ball inside."

Maryland can become the fifth team in ACC history to reach 20 wins before February. The last to do so? Uh, Duke, last Wednesday.

Terps today

Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Lawrence Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Time: 1 p.m.

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

Line: Rolling Terps

Rolling Terps

A Maryland victory today would give the Terps seven straight ACC victories, matching their second-longest streak:

Season ACC streak

1954-55 8

1973-74 7

1974-75 6

1979-80 6

1994-95 6

1998-99 6

Source: Maryland

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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