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Williams Is Unstoppable, So Is Duke

January 18, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DURHAM, N.C. — The look on Jason Williams' face at Duke's shootaround was one Chris Duhon has seen before.

"It was, 'Give me the ball,'" Duhon said. "I saw it in his eyes."

So did Maryland's Steve Blake--at least for the few moments he could keep Williams in front of him Thursday night.

After a pell-mell 99-78 victory against the No. 3 Terrapins in front of 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the latest game in the now epic-series between Duke and Maryland belongs to the No. 1 Blue Devils

It was a game that will look like a blowout, but felt very little like one until the end.

Williams, almost unstoppable off the dribble, scored 34 points--more amazing for the fact that he made only one three-point basket, getting most of his points off explosive drives to the basket.

"Well, yeah," Williams said, a smile creeping across his face. "Yeah, for some reason, I really wanted the ball in my hands."

He made 13 of 23 shots and added eight assists and seven rebounds. Mike Dunleavy scored 21 points, 19 in the second half.

Maryland, which had beaten Duke in its last two trips to Cameron, traded punches with the Blue Devils for the first 20 minutes and led, 49-48, at halftime, partly because of the bruising play of Lonny Baxter, who scored 24 points before fouling out.

But Duke overwhelmed Maryland in the second half, chiefly because of a single-handed 9-0 run by Williams that helped open a 10-point lead, then two daggers from Dunleavy after Maryland cut the lead to 73-70.

The rivalry is one that has grown quickly and fiercely as Maryland's program has become a national contender--and coincidentally, as rival North Carolina has suddenly plunged below .500 this season.

Duke and Maryland played four times last season, and Duke won three--the last one in the Final Four, roaring back from a 22-point deficit to advance to the championship game.

In another victory, the Blue Devils rallied from a 10-point deficit with a minute left in regulation to win in overtime.

Williams--a hero in so many games and a goat for missing late free throws in Duke's stunning loss to Florida State--dominated from wire to wire.

"He did what he did from the beginning," Duhon said. "He didn't wait for any late heroics."

Williams made seven of his 10 free throws too, but it wasn't necessary: Maryland had no answer for his dribble penetration, trying Blake, then Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas.

The 30-point game was his third of the season.

Maryland's Dixon--held to 10 points, barely half his average--said the Terrapins tried to guard Williams on the perimeter.

But when they closed on him, Williams went by.

Duhon has seen him do that plenty.

"When Jason is in that zone and has that look, I don't think anybody in the country can stay in front of him," Duhon said.

At times, Williams almost seemed to toy with the defender before darting by with a crossover dribble.

"He's just getting a read, seeing what his best option is," Duhon said. "He's so quick and such a good ballhandler, he kind of dribbles you to sleep. You let up for a split-second and he's gone."

Maryland (13-3) had been carried to victory in its last two visits to Cameron on the shoulders of Dixon, but he couldn't carry the Terrapins this time--partly because of the defense of Duke's Dahntay Jones.

"Juan, of all the kids who don't play for Duke, he's my favorite player," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I admire him immensely. He's a warrior. He missed some shots and we played good defense. But he could go for 40 next time."

There will be a next time--and maybe more than one.

"There are more battles to come," Williams said. "I'm sure there will be two--maybe even three."

For now, Duke (15-1) is reinvigorated--and its claim to No. 1 firm after recovering from the loss to Florida State.

When the Blue Devils returned to Cameron after that game, Krzyzewski had ordered changes in the locker room. The players' chairs were taken away, their name plates and pictures taken down.

The chairs were back Thursday, but the walls around the players' stalls were bare.

That's fine with Williams for now.

"This team had let complacency set in," he said. "We wanted to win, but we wanted to put forth the least amount of effort to win. We don't want to become that team."

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