Less than 24 hours after a dominating performance and reclaiming the top spot in the ACC, the Maryland Terrapins were off to the airport, bound for Durham, N.C., and perhaps their biggest test this season.
No. 8 Duke might not seem as imposing as it was in past seasons or even last month, when it came to College Park as the nation's last undefeated team, atop the national polls. Four weeks -- and four losses -- later, the Blue Devils might even seem vulnerable, but Cameron Indoor Stadium has remained a cauldron for opponents.
Duke is 12-0 at home this season, has won 25 home games in a row and 87 of its past 91 in the cozy 9,314-seat gymnasium. Two of those losses, however, were to Maryland, which tonight will bid for its first regular season sweep of the Blue Devils since 1995.
A victory would keep the 13th-ranked Terrapins (16-6, 8-3) in first place in the conference and essentially make it a two-team race with Wake Forest for the regular season title.
"They're still a great team and they're still Duke -- you can't fear them but you've got to respect them," Maryland forward Calvin McCall said. "We need a win to set ourselves up to win the league. Our main goal is winning the league."
The Terrapins put themselves into excellent position by handling 10th-ranked Wake Forest, 90-67, on Monday in a game delayed one day because of the snowstorm that struck the Washington area. That gave the team just one day to prepare for and travel to Duke. However, because of the snow, classes were canceled yesterday, giving Maryland's players and coaches a little more time to get ready for tonight's meeting of the past two national champions.
"It's going to be a challenge to get ready in one day, but I think we're up for it," forward Tahj Holden said.
The Terrapins lost at Duke last season but had won their previous two games at Cameron. Several Maryland players have said they enjoy the Cameron atmosphere and noted that Duke usually has the ACC's softest rims, which can help their shooting.
While Williams said he will not alter his game plan, his area of focus almost certainly will be on preparation and starting fast. Duke is known for its ability to make staggering runs, and with a rotation that includes five first-year players, Maryland does not want to fall behind early.
"You have to really come out ready to play," Williams said, "because if you don't, you can really lose it in the first four minutes.
"It's a tough place to play, especially for the new guys, but we've won there recently and we think we can play. I'm sure they remember the game here, but that's the league -- you get a chance at home and you get a chance on the road. That's the way you have to look at it."
For a team accustomed to winning almost all of the time, this has been a different kind of season for Duke (17-4, 7-4), which lost just 19 games in the previous five seasons combined. The Blue Devils started the season with 12 victories before losing to the Terrapins last month, starting a 31/2-week stretch during which Duke played just .500. During that time, Duke remained perfect at home but lost four consecutive road games before whipping Virginia, 78-59, this past Saturday.
"When you have exceptional years, if that becomes your bench mark, then someone can look at it as being up and down, but I think we're having a really good year," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But we have a young group learning and becoming more mature -- that's what this season is about. It's not about past seasons; comparative things about past seasons is one of the most irrelevant things in sports."
While Krzyzewski bristled at the suggestion that the season has been unusual for the Blue Devils, point guard Chris Duhon agreed with it.
"Definitely I think there have been a little more downs this year," he said. "We're right there to make plays we usually make, and we're not making them. But it's going to happen. We're heading in the right direction. I think we are a good team that can make a run at the end because we are still improving."
Count Williams among those who say Duke is a dangerous team, especially after the Blue Devils dismantled a Virginia team that previously had not lost at home this season.
"That's what I always go by," Williams said. "I don't look at a lot of tapes, but I look at the last couple and that game against Virginia was very impressive."