DURHAM, N.C. - Having overcome the weather, a little self-doubt and the best rebounding team in the nation while moving back on top of their conference, the Maryland Terrapins must go to a place where so many visitors are doomed to fail.
But when No. 13 Maryland enters fabled Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight to renew one of college basketball's juiciest rivalries with eighth-ranked Duke, the Terps could be a pretty loose group, despite being forced to play such a critical game with only one day of preparation.
After handing the 10th-ranked Wake Forest men a 90-67 whipping on Monday, when they responded to a one-day snowstorm postponement by routing the Demon Deacons on the boards and getting tremendous senior leadership, the Terps (16-6, 8-3 league) leaped over Wake into first place by a half game in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Now that their recent two-game losing slide has been replaced by a two-game winning streak, Maryland is looking to sustain its momentum in a legendarily tough place to play. Duke (17-4, 7-4) has won 25 consecutive games at Cameron, the third-longest home streak behind Oklahoma and Western Kentucky, who have prevailed 34 straight times on their home courts.
If anyone can break the spell, it's Maryland. The Terps are the last team to win in Durham, having done so on Feb. 27, 2001, by a 91-80 count. That was their second straight victory at Duke, where the Terps did lose 13 months ago, before beginning the roll toward their first regular-season ACC crown in 22 years and their first NCAA title.
On top of that, Maryland has beaten Duke two straight times overall - both in College Park - and is trying to become the first school since Wake Forest (nine straight wins from 1993 to 1997) to take down the Blue Devils three times in a row. Maryland spotted then-No. 1 Duke a 13-3 lead on Jan. 18 at Comcast Center before storming back to win, 87-72.
In a league that has been especially brutal on road teams - home teams hold a 38-10 advantage entering tonight's ACC games - the Terps are the only squad to have won three away dates. Maryland could effectively knock the Blue Devils out of the regular-season conference title hunt tonight. .
"It's been a tough week for us, and this is going to be a very tough game for us. We've got to turn it around quick against a very good basketball team," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
"If you're not ready to play [at Cameron], you can lose it in the first four minutes, because [Duke] will come out energized. You can't get caught up playing like the other team. You have to play your game."
The Terps would gladly gamble with the same recipe they used to blow away Wake Forest on Monday and Duke last month. Each time, Maryland worked the ball inside nearly at will.
Against Wake, the Terps got outstanding games from the senior backcourt of Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas and became the first team to outrebound the Demon Deacons by grabbing 44 rebounds to Wake's 24.
Senior center Ryan Randle, who recorded a career-high 17 rebounds in the first game against Duke, grabbed 13 against Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils have gone through their share of growing pains with a youthful roster. Duke had lost four consecutive road games before pummeling Virginia, 78-59, in Charlottesville on Saturday. And the Blue Devils are shooting only 37.6 percent in their five games in February.
In the first meeting with Maryland, freshman forwards Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph were hardly factors. Williams just scored a career-high 20 points against Virginia. In the first meeting, freshman guard J.J. Redick had foul trouble and never got untracked. He is the team's second-leading scorer (15.4 ppg) and the nation's most proficient free-throw shooter (.942).
In the first meeting, senior small forward Dahntay Jones kept the Blue Devils afloat by himself for a while, but Jones has struggled mightily to score in recent games. And in the first game, Blake clearly outplayed Duke senior point guard Chris Duhon, and Maryland's bench wore out the Blue Devils.
Not that any of that matters at the zoo known as Cameron, where the Blue Devils can be expected to play with a sense of desperation tonight.
"It's going to be wild, it's going to be crazy, it's going to be exciting," said senior guard Calvin McCall, who came off the bench to energize the Terps against Wake by scoring nine points, matching his career high with seven rebounds and playing stifling defense on Demon Deacons star senior forward Josh Howard.
"We just need to stay focused and play the way we've been playing," McCall added. "Every team goes through adversity. Hopefully, that [losing streak to Virginia and Georgia Tech] was the last of ours."
NOTES: Blake, a Wooden and Naismith national Player of the Year nominee who scored 21 points and made 12 of 13 free-throw attempts against Wake, was named ACC co-Player of the Week for scoring Maryland's final seven points in last week's come-from-behind, 74-72 victory over Florida State. ... Tonight's game marks the 17th straight time Duke and Maryland have squared off as mutual members of the Top 25.
Matchup: No. 13 Maryland (16-6) at No. 8 Duke (17-4)
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Duke by 6