Maryland guard Walt Williams, who is ranked in the top 10 in five Atlantic Coast Conference categories, fractured his left fibula on Saturday and will miss a month or more.

Williams, a 6-foot-8 junior, was hurt in the opening five minutes of a 94-78 loss to Duke at Cole Field House. X-rays were taken yesterday morning, and Williams will be fitted for a lower leg cast today, which he will wear for about four weeks, trainer J. J. Bush said.

"Hopefully this will heal quickly and I'll be able to get back out there," Williams said in a statement. "I'm disappointed for sure, but I know the team will continue to do well." He could not be reached for further comment.

The loss to Duke marked the halfway point of Maryland's season. Williams was averaging a team-leading 20.3 points, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Those figures placed him fourth, sixth and ninth, respectively, in the ACC; Williams also ranked fifth in three-point field goal percentage and eighth in free throw percentage.

Williams said after Saturday's game that he was hurt after a collision underneath the basket. He left the game at the time of the injury but returned seconds later. He went to the locker room with five minutes remaining in the first half, but convinced Coach Gary Williams to allow him to start the second half. In obvious pain, he left the game for good with 12:27 remaining.

Maryland trailed 66-49 at the time, eventually falling behind by 72-52 before a late rally closed the gap to 10 with just less than five minutes to play. Gary Williams said yesterday he was pleased at his players' efforts in Williams's absence and hoped it would continue throughout his convalescence.

"It's upsetting but it's something you can't control; if a guy gets hurt he gets hurt," Gary Williams said. "You can't let it get to you; you do everything you can to make up for him not being there. Whether or not we can we'll see. But right now we have to get the other guys believing they will be ready by Wednesday" when the Terrapins host No. 13 Virginia.

Williams has taken 25 percent of Maryland's shots this season, and his scoring and assists account for 40 percent of the team's points. Guard Matt Roe (15.4 points) and center Cedric Lewis (11.3) are scoring threats, but Williams's absence also will be felt in Maryland's ballhandling and defensive pressure, where the tri-captain used his height and long arms to disrupt opponents' ball movement.

"It will limit what we're able to do offensively and defensively," said Gary Williams. "I'm sure people will start to play Roe and Kevin McLinton a lot tougher on the ball without Walt to help out. We already had few guys that have a lot of experience; now we have to be more careful about not getting into foul trouble so we have to watch how much we press, because when you press you tend to foul more."

The coach said Vince Broadnax, who has started five games this season, likely will replace Williams in the starting lineup, although "you can't replace a Walt Williams with one other player. Obviously a few players will have to pick up their game a notch or two to make up for the loss of Walt."

Voted the most valuable player of last month's ECAC Holiday Festival tournament, Williams averaged 24.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the six games preceding Saturday's. During that span, Maryland lost the only two games in which he scored less than 26 points -- he had 16 against both Wake Forest and North Carolina.

Williams returned to Maryland despite the NCAA sanctions leveled against the school last spring. Eligible to compete right away had he switched schools, Williams considered transferring to Georgetown, Georgia Tech, St. John's or Nevada-Las Vegas.

Although Williams (then shooting 40 percent) and Maryland (then 2-3) got off to a slow start, he said recently he never regretted his decision to return to College Park.

"A lot of people said that coming back {as the only returning starter} would put a lot of added pressure on me, but being in that kind of position is a players' dream," Williams said. "This season is the high point of my life right now."