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Terps take stock of Tech; UM looks for revenge as Cremins mulls exit


COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland wants to make amends for a four-minute lapse.

Georgia Tech is trying to stop a four-year slide.

The Terps meet the Yellow Jackets tonight at Cole Field House. No. 22 Maryland (17-7, 6-4) will attempt to heal its wounds from Sunday's 73-65 loss at Temple, in which it faded down the stretch, and win in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the seventh time in eight games.

That surge has coach Gary Williams' program in line for its seventh straight bid to the NCAA tournament, and Terps fans speculating on the possibility that they might work on their tans come March. How about an opening round in Tucson, Ariz., out West, or Birmingham, Ala., in the South?

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, meanwhile, acknowledges the soul searching he will do next month. The Yellow Jackets (11-12, 3-7) are embarking on a stretch in which they'll play four of five on the road, and it could turn out to be a farewell tour for Cremins, the only current coach to have played and coached in an ACC championship game.

Georgia Tech is the only ACC team besides Duke and North Carolina to get to the Final Four since 1984. The Yellow Jackets have gone to the NCAA tournament just once in the last six seasons, however, and since they finished atop the regular-season standings in 1996, they are 18-40 in ACC games.

Cremins has listened to the rumblings out of Atlanta regarding his job security, and it doesn't sound as if he'll have to be pushed out.

"When this thing is over with, I'll look at the situation," Cremins said yesterday. "I owe Georgia Tech a lot. I owe it to Georgia Tech to take a long look at the situation. I want to be here. I want to coach Georgia Tech. But I will take a hard look, and do what's best for Georgia Tech and my family.

"I have moments when I think about it. Right now, I'm determined to keep fighting. We need a major turnaround."

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the only ACC coach with longer tenure than Cremins, who has seen little go right since Georgia Tech reached the Sweet 16 in 1996. Stephon Marbury bolted soon thereafter. Dion Glover was an all-rookie selection two years ago, but he also spent only one season with the Yellow Jackets.

Leading scorer and rebounder Jason Collier fled the turmoil of Indiana and found the mediocrity of Georgia Tech, which seemed scarred by narrow early-season losses to Kansas, Michigan, Georgia and Stanford.

"I feel for Jason at times," Cremins said. "He's learned a lot. I know he's disappointed in the way our team has played, and I know he wishes it had turned out better."

Asked if he had any empathy for Cremins and his situation, Williams said that he "can't think about those things now," but pointed out that Cremins pretty much put Georgia Tech on the college basketball map.

"Bobby is the reason that Georgia Tech is considered a very good basketball program," Williams said. "It was never there before he got there. Obviously, Bobby can coach. It's a funny business. You can get in a situation where you can't do your best job. Bobby doesn't have to prove to anybody how good of a coach he is."

Cremins shook up his backcourt and upset Virginia last week, but Georgia Tech's best win was over Maryland in January, a 69-68 Terps loss that was eerily similar to Sunday's setback at Temple.

While the Owls ran plays down the stretch, the Terps ran amok, and it was a relapse of the finish in Atlanta, where freshman point guard Steve Blake's indecision cost Maryland a game-winning shot at the end. For all of the talk about how the Terps were abused inside physically in those two games, their perimeter defense was also lacking in both, as Georgia Tech overcame a 16-5 deficit with nine three-pointers.

"It hasn't been a constant thing all year," Williams said of Maryland's perimeter defense. "If you look at the Georgia Tech game, Temple, yeah, they [both] played physical, but we gave up too much from the three-point line."

That loss left the Terps 0-3 in the ACC, but last week's efforts against N.C. State and Duke have them a win away from avenging that start tonight. A victory also would give Maryland a share of second place in the conference with North Carolina.

The first meeting with Georgia Tech began Juan Dixon's rise up the ACC scoring charts. With Maryland's offense stagnating in the second half, he stepped up and scored a career-high 31 points. The sophomore guard from Calvert Hall, who's the co-ACC Player of the Week, has averaged 22.2 points in the last nine games, improving his seasonal average to 18.0.

NOTES: Dixon leads the ACC with 73 steals, and the Maryland record for a sophomore is 78, by Johnny Rhodes in 1993-94. Collier's closest competition in the ACC rebounding race is Terence Morris. Collier is at 9.8 a game, Morris 9.0; Joe Smith and Tony Massenburg are the only Terps with better averages since Buck Williams nearly two decades ago. The 7 p.m. tip-off coincides with the starting time of night classes, and Maryland officials are encouraging fans to arrive early.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Georgia Tech (11-12, 3-7 ACC)

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 7

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Tickets: Sold out

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