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Terps face Devil of a challenge; An underdog at last, Maryland finds Duke in midst of 16-win run; Rising No. 2 last lost Nov. 28; Williams eyes response to Wake 'wake-up call'


DURHAM, N.C. -- At last, Maryland is back on familiar turf. It's the underdog.

The Terps won't get any relief when they venture into Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight at 9 to face Duke, but for the first time in this season of great expectations, coach Gary Williams' team won't be the one with a bull's-eye on its chest. It took 23 games for the opponent to be listed as the favorite instead of the Terps.

"That's different," Williams said. "I'd rather be the favorite, to tell you the truth. That would mean we've become an awfully good game [for Duke]. Given that, it's fun being the underdog. You just go out and play."

That's what the Blue Devils (21-1, 9-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) have done since a Nov. 28 loss to Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout. Duke surrendered the No. 1 ranking to Connecticut, but with the Huskies falling for the first time Monday, coach Mike Krzyzewski's team is ready to reclaim the top spot.

No. 2 Duke has won 16 straight, and can achieve its best 23-game record ever. No. 7 Maryland (19-3, 7-2) had won six straight before an embarrassing 13-point loss at Wake Forest Sunday, which dropped the Terps to their lowest ranking in a campaign that began with the highest preseason notice they had received since 1980.

Even with a win over the Demon Deacons, the Terps wouldn't have been given much of a chance of prevailing at Duke and earning a share of first place in the ACC. Williams has never notched a coaching win at Cameron, and whatever Maryland has tried lately, Duke has done better.

The Blue Devils are looking for their fifth straight win over the Terps.

Last season, Duke beat Maryland by 32 points at Cole. In their second meeting at Cameron, Williams was ejected and the Terps lost by 27.

The addition of spectacular junior college transfer Steve Francis added to the hype of their Jan. 3 meeting at Cole. Maryland stayed with Duke for a half, before it was buried under a 13-0 Blue Devils run and fell behind by 24. The oddsmakers favored Maryland in that game, and in its first loss, at Kentucky.

It was part of Duke's quest for its third straight ACC regular-season title and its third NCAA crown in the 1990s.

Last week the Blue Devils beat No. 9 St. John's at Madison Square Garden; No. 12 North Carolina in Cameron, and handled N.C. State in their last trip to Reynolds Coliseum.

Sounds like something you would face in the NCAA tournament, right?

"I guess, but in the first round you don't get a St. John's," said Elton Brand, the sophomore center who averages 17.8 points and 9.0 rebounds. "It's been a very tough stretch."

Brand is the genesis of Duke's inside-out attack. Sophomore point guard William Avery has stepped up his production as senior Trajan Langdon plugs through a shooting slump, but the Blue Devils' defensive work has been a constant.

With Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier marking Francis and Terence Morris, respectively, Duke didn't let Maryland run and gave it fits in the half-court offense in their first meeting.

While the Blue Devils and their eight-man rotation haven't slept in a strange bed since Jan. 23, the Terps are on the road for the third time in four games. The physical aspect wasn't the concern after the flop Maryland took at Wake Forest, which had lost its five previous games.

"Very few programs are immune from what we did Sunday," Williams said. "We didn't do a good job of getting ready. Obviously, I take responsibility for that. It's my job to get them ready."

Williams took a dig at seniors Obinna Ekezie, Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes after Maryland struggled to get past Georgia Tech Jan. 19.

His bench got the Terps over the hump against Florida State last week, and Williams was asked if he could see the Wake Forest game coming.

"Maybe that was the wake-up call we needed," said Williams. "You hopefully don't have to take a loss for that to happen. I was hoping that the Georgia Tech game would be enough. We had to go through what we went through at Wake Forest. If that's the way it is, that's the way it happened."

Will the debacle at Wake Forest, which involved a 60-point turnaround from a 38-point lead the Terps had on the Demon Deacons in December to a 22-point hole they dug themselves Sunday, resonate beyond one loss?

"We have to make sure we get back to playing our style, with a very high intensity," Ekezie said. "We have to go after them, and give them our best game.

"Duke hasn't gotten our best game the last two years. Anybody who's not ready to play, has got some serious problems. Then, it would be more serious than one game."

Terps tonight

Opponent: No. 2 Duke

Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.

Time: 9 TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Duke by 11

Drubbed by Duke

In the teams' previous four meetings, Duke has trounced Maryland by an average of 22 points:

Season, Site Score Margin

'96-97, Duke 81-69 12

'97-98, Cole 104-72 32

'97-98, Duke 86-59 27

'98-99, Cole 82-64 18

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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