"If we have to lose a game I'd rather lose to someone on the West Coast or something. If we lost to Georgetown we would hear about it a lot. Knowing them and knowing we'd have to face their fans if we lost -- that's incentive." -- Albert King
If Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell and Georgetown Coach John Thompson had their way all their players would wear masks Friday in Philadelphia when they square off in the NCAA East Regional semifinals. That way they wouldn't recognize familiar faces.
Both coaches have discouraged their players from talking about each other, although the players know each other well from summer leagues and, in fact, like each other.
"They're a team between us and winning the East Regional," said Georgetown reserve forward Jeff Bullis. "It's another step for us to get to the national final. Personally, I don't see it as the big hype everyone is making it out to be."
That is the company line, ordered by Thompson. Driesell's players are under the same orders. But pushed, reminded of their 83-71 loss to the Hoyas in December, they can't help but admit this game is different from one with Tennessee.
Terp center Buck Williams said, "They walk on the same grass we do. We share the same territory. If they win they'll probably rub it in. That's only human."
One of the three centers Williams will face, Mike Frazier, expressed a similar sentiment immediately after Georgetown's win over Iona -- before Thompson clamped down on Maryland talk.
"It's still a crosstown thing to see who's the best. To eliminate Maryland would be another inch to the NCAA goal."
As a group, despite wins over Maryland the last two seasons, the Georgetown players feel they still have something to prove. The win this season occured with Williams watching from the Maryland bench, sidelined by a broken finger. Last Year's win was over a weaker Terrapin team than the one that has compiled a 24-6 record this season.
"We've been the underdog all year," said Al Dutch, the 6-7 senior who likely will draw the starting assignment of guarding King. "I think we're still the underdog. We haven't gotten enought repsect yet. We're still pushing."
Both these teams feel they have been slighted. Goergetown is 25-5 but didn't crack the Top Ten until two weeks ago -- in the UPI coaches' poll -- and never went higher than 11th in the AP writers' poll. Maryland was eighth in both polls but the loss of the ACC tournament title to Duke has left the players still feeling unappreciated.
"People have put us down all year," said Ernest Graham, the man who will have to contain Craig Shelton. "That first game against them, we weren't the team we are now. Not just because we didn't have Buck but because I was just getting used to forward again.
"Look, the past is over, this is for all the marbles. I'm looking forward to playing Shelton again. I know what I have to do to stop him -- deny him the ball inside. If he gets it down there, he's impossible to stop. He 'll shoot over you every time."
Graham can say that with certainty because he has played against Shelton and with him -- in summer league ball. Players on both sides know each other from summer ball. In addition, Williams, Shelton and Duren know each other from last spring's Pan American trials.
"Craig's a quiet guy," Williams said, "very low key. But J.D. (Duren), he's just the opposite. He's very outspoken, he brags a lot. I don't mean brags, he just lets you know how he feels. If they were to win this game I know he'd come looking for me. That's okay with me, though."
Generally, the players like each other. "They're good dudes," Graham said. We're just gonna go out and play each other. This summer we won't talk about the game much. If they win they won't make a big deal about it. The only ones I'll hear from are the crackpots in the stands."
Graham, the Terp extrovert, is extremely popular with the Georgetown players. "I like Ernie a lot, he's a good person," said Dutch. "He's easygoing and has a good sense of humor."
Ironicaly, the Georgetown players, who were expected to have a good season this year, got their first inkling of the Terps' self-confidence during one of the players' frequent summer bull sessions.
Frazier remembers King and Graham talking one summer day about the season that was to come."They were looking forward to it," he said "They though this was going to be a good year . . . I knew this was going to be a good season (for Georgetown)."
One of those two superb seasons will end sometime shortly before midnight in the Spectrum Friday. All the players have different ideas about what the key to the game will be.
Maryland's players are in unanimous agreement on one thing. "We have to rebound better," said Reggie Jackson. "They killed us on the boards last time."
The rebounding was 36-19 in Georgetown's favor last time. Maryland's players vow it will not be the same this time around. "I know how to rebound better now than I did in December. And Buck, well everyone knows he's a born rebounder, Graham said.
"The team that gets it inside more often and avoids turnovers will win; it's that simple," said Williams. "We have to make them shoot jump shots.
Georgetown's thinking is similar. "The key to every game is rebounding," said the Hoyas' leading scorer , Eric (Sleepy) Floyd. "We have to get our share so we can run, so we can stop them from running."
All the players involved agree that no one is going to get blown out of this game. It will be decided at the very end.
"I have this daydream," said King. "In it, there's one second left and we're ahead by 10 points. But I know it's just that -- a dream. It won't happen that way. No one's going to win this game by 10 points.
"The team that wins this game will have to play great. Then again the team that loses will probably play great, too.
"There's only one thing I know about this game for sure: It won't end in a tie."