Sunday, March 31, 2002

Terps survive late Jayhawk charge

Maryland had led by 20 points

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

        ATLANTA — This was Maryland with all its ferocity showing. From the 34 points of inexorable guard Juan Dixon, to the frantic pace that never took a breath, to the big lead that was so brilliantly built but then nearly given away.

        And now, after a boffo show in the Final Four, deliverance may be at hand for Gary Williams and his alma mater, a coach and a school who have chased a national championship for so long.

        The Terrapins closed in on their first title Saturday night, holding off Kansas 97-88 in a dogfight of top seeds.

        It was a nervous evening at that, when a 20-point Maryland lead with six minutes left shrank to five with two minutes left on a flurry of Jayhawk 3-pointers. But Maryland had enough free throws and Kansas' last gasp ended when it called a timeout it didn't have with the score 92-88 and 20 seconds left.

        Maryland's total was the most points scored by a team in the Final Four since UNLV's 103-73 win over Duke in 1990.

        “I think they're hungry,” Kansas' Drew Gooden said of the Terrapins. “And they've got their eyes on the prize.”

        After 35 games, 31 of them victories, the final hurdle is Indiana in Monday night's championship game. But the opportunity comes with a warning label:

        The last five teams to win a No.1 vs. No.1 national semifinal promptly lost to a lower-seeded underdog. Indiana has spent the tournament upsetting other teams' expectations. For the Terrapins, the work is hardly done, no matter how mighty they looked Saturday.

        “It's gonna be a tough game,” Dixon said of Monday's showdown. “A lot of people didn't expect Indiana to get this far. But this is our year and we'll be ready to play Monday night.”

        And yet it is now close enough to touch for Williams, in his 24th season of coaching.

        “Garyland,” the billboard and shirts proclaim here this weekend.

        Garyland spotted the Jayhawks an early 11-point lead, then attacked on all fronts.

        A Kansas team that out-rebounded Oregon 63-34 last week was fought to nearly even, 42-40.

        A Jayhawk attack that led the nation with 91 points a game was outgunned and outrun.

        “We don't mind,” Dixon had said the day before, “getting in a track meet.”

        The turning point came with the Terrapins ahead 52-50 early in the second half.

        In the next seven minutes, the Jayhawks were blitzed 18-5 with seven different Terrapins scoring. They were gone for good.

        Nick Collison's 21 points led Kansas.

        The brilliant night could not have started worse for Maryland. Four minutes into the game, the Terrapins were down 13-2 with Lonny Baxter — voted MVP of the East Regional — on the bench after two early fouls.

        The Maryland resurgence began with a timeout, and Gary Williams raging at his team. Whatever he was screaming, the Terrapins responded.

        By the 7:20 mark of the first half, they had taken a 26-25 lead on Dixon's 3-pointer.

        By halftime, they were ahead 44-37. Dixon already had 19 points. Maryland stayed nearly even on the boards the first half, despite only three minutes from Baxter, its leading rebounder.

        These were bad omens for Kansas. Not nearly as bad as the look in the Terrapins' eyes in the second half. One game to go, and now they seem to smell it.


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