COLLEGE PARK -- In 11 seasons under coach Gary Williams, Maryland is 4-20 against Duke. Only one of those victories came at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Williams was on sick leave for that 1995 success.
Lately, Williams hasn't had to answer as many questions about the non-rivalry, because the Blue Devils have also owned everyone else in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
When No. 23 Maryland invades No. 3 Duke tonight, all the Terps will try to do is hand the Blue Devils their first ACC regular-season loss since Feb. 5, 1998, and deal them their first home-court setback since Jan. 11, 1997. That's a record 31 straight wins in the ACC and 46 in a row at Cameron for Mike Krzyzewski's juggernaut.
"If we're cursed, then about six or seven other teams are, too," Williams said of Duke's dominance, which surpasses anything he's encountered in 21 seasons as a college basketball head coach. "I was in the Big East when Georgetown had [Patrick] Ewing. I was in the Big Ten when Indiana and Michigan both won national championships.
"This is a big-time streak, the best I've ever seen."
Since Maryland (16-6, 5-4) overcame a 12-point deficit with seven minutes left and beat N.C. State on Sunday to force a four-way tie for second place in the ACC, the prospect of toppling Duke (18-2, 9-0) might not seem like such a mountainous task.
With freshmen Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams meshing seamlessly with veterans Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell and Nate James, Duke has won 18 straight since the two-loss shakedown cruise it took to the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in November.
Maryland, meanwhile, has been the second-hottest team in the ACC the past three weeks. Five wins in six games have made the Terps the best bet for an NCAA tournament berth out of that second-place logjam.
The only loss in that stretch came at North Carolina, where the elements brought students courtside and actually made the Smith Center a daunting place to play. It still had the ambience of a retirement center compared with the mosh pit that Maryland freshmen Steve Blake, Tahj Holden and Drew Nicholas will experience for the first time tonight.
The average margin of defeat in the Terps' last four trips to Durham has been 16.8 points. Maryland has taken to crumbling in the face of adversity at Cameron, where Williams' up-tempo style hasn't been fast enough to keep up with the Blue Devils.
A renewed emphasis on inside play has led to sophomore Lonny Baxter's scoring 79 points in three straight wins. The Terps also need to complement that with a perimeter game tonight, however, and play better defense than they did Sunday, when N.C. State made 49.1 percent of its shots, the best mark against Maryland this season.
"We were bad early on, and got better as the game went on," Williams said. "We were running around, had no discipline defensively. We were leaving to help, covering guys who couldn't shoot as well as the guys we left open. That was not a good performance defensively."
Duke's ball movement and abundance of ball-handlers does not bode well for Maryland.
"You have to stop them," Williams said. "You're not going to outscore them. That is the key; you have to play good defense. You look at their six, and all of those guys are capable of getting 20 on a given night. You can't look at Duke and say, 'OK, we're going to lay off that guy.' They all can hurt you."
On a team scoring 90.2 points a game, all five Duke starters average in double figures, and sixth man Dunleavy is at 9.9. Boozer has given the Blue Devils a low-post option, and Williams, the Maryland coach, says that he isn't trying to get a rise out of Terence Morris when he says that Carrawell has been the best player in the ACC.
The 6-foot-6 senior from St. Louis is averaging 18.3 points and 6.2 rebounds, while backing up Jason Williams at the point and drawing the opponents' top wing, like Juan Dixon.
"He's having a terrific year," Krzyzewski said. "He has scored many, many big buckets for us. A lot of guys score when the game gets out of hand. Chris scores when we need him to score."
While Duke has been unbeatable for nearly three months, it has been extended to overtime by four challengers, most recently North Carolina on Thursday. Carrawell had 23 points and Battier 25 in that game.
Williams refutes the notion that any Duke mystique affects Maryland, but the Terps tightened up horribly at Cole Field House on Jan. 9 in an 80-70 loss, their sixth straight to the Blue Devils. Their field-goal percentage (.341) was the program's worst in more than four years.
After Duke, Maryland faces the only other ranked team left on its schedule, No. 19 Temple. That nonconference test is the return game for the Owls' visit to Baltimore Arena two years ago, and Williams was asked if he has ever faced a more daunting road swing at Maryland.
"This is probably as tough a trip as we've had," said Williams, who recalled a daunting three days, albeit against two teams that were not ranked. "My first year [1989-90], we were at Carolina on a Saturday, and Monday at Southern California, with Robert Minor and Harold Pack [actually Robert Pack and Harold Minor] in the backcourt.
"Beat 'em both."
NOTES: Both freshman point guards are playing hurt. Williams sprained the ring finger on his shooting hand in the win over North Carolina. Blake missed preparation for N.C. State with a sprained ankle, but resumed practicing Monday. Morris, who missed one game with an ankle sprain, wore a black elastic bandage on his left knee against the Wolfpack. The Terps are 4-5 away from Cole Field House, with their lone road win coming at Florida State.
Opponent: No. 3 Duke (18-2, 9-0 ACC)
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)