Maryland proved that it's a national title contender with an impressive rout of Duke
The official box score indicates that Maryland guard Juan Dixon didn't have an assist during the Terrapins' 87-73 win over Duke at Cole Field House on Sunday. The day before, however, Dixon provided something more valuable when he suggested to coach Gary Williams before practice that 6'10" sophomore Chris Wilcox, not 6'6" senior Byron Mouton, guard Mike Dunleavy, the Blue Devils' 6'9" forward. Dunleavy scored 19 second-half points in Duke's 99-78 rout of Maryland when the teams last met, on Jan. 17, and he creates matchup problems for most teams because of his height inside and his shooting ability outside. " Dunleavy's not that quick," Dixon said after Sunday's game. "He can shoot and put the ball on the floor, but Chris is very athletic. I knew he'd have a good shot at stopping him."
Wilcox did more than stop Dunleavy, who scored only five of his 15 points in the game's final 31 minutes. He also punished the Blue Devils on the offensive end, with a career-high 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wilcox's performance helped lead Maryland (21-3, 11-1 in the ACC) to a resounding wire-to-wire win that gave it sole possession of first place in the conference through Sunday (the Terps haven't won an outright regular-season title since 1980) and a No. 2 ranking. "Chris is quick enough that if he makes mistakes, he can recover," Williams says. "Usually only guards can do that."
With Dunleavy locked up, Wilcox's teammates could focus on containing Duke guard Jason Williams, who was thoroughly outplayed by his Maryland counterpart, Steve Blake. Williams finished with 17 points but made only 6 of 22 shots and had six turnovers to four assists. Blake, meanwhile, had 13 assists and only one turnover to go with eight points. Their matchup was neatly summed up during the waning seconds of the first half when Blake sneaked up on Williams—who was dribbling the ball while holding for the final shot and had turned to get instructions from coach Mike Krzyzewski—stole the ball at midcourt and went in for a layup. "We were a little bit flustered," Krzyzewski said. "You can get away with that if the other team isn't playing well, but Maryland was playing well."
Wilcox has played well at other times during his two seasons in College Park, but too often he has made spectacular plays while failing to complete routine ones. As his consistency has improved, so have his stats: He was averaging 11.0 points, an increase from 3.6 a game last season, and his rebounding had improved from 2.1 a game to 7.7. On Sunday, Wilcox, a 51.6% free throw shooter entering the game, made 7 of 9 from the line. He also brings an impish personality to the Terps. Says junior guard Drew Nicholas, "Chris is probably the one guy who can calm Coach down when he's trying to be real serious."
For Maryland, Sunday's game wasn't only a win, it was an exorcism. For all the talk of how terrific a rivalry this has become, Duke (23-2 and 11-2) had beaten the Terps in five of their previous six meetings, and after twice blowing leads against the Blue Devils in epic fashion last season—including a 22-point advantage in the Final Four-Maryland needed to clear this psychological hurdle to establish itself as a national championship contender. Gary Williams tried to downplay this on Sunday, saying, "We didn't win anything today. All we proved is that we can beat Duke."
Given the Terps' history, that's not an insignificant feat.
Pitt Back on Track
Panthers on The Prowl
Back in the fall, when Pittsburgh was picked by the media to finish sixth out of the seven teams in the Big East's West Division, coach Ben Howland's first thought was, Perfect.
"From the outside I can see why they did that," says How-land, who had lost his top two scorers and rebounders from a team that had gone 7-9 in the conference (19-14 overall) last season. "I liked being picked low because it meant we were a bit under the radar."