Friday, March 28, 2003

Maryland-Michigan St. preview

Past champs want that feeling again

By Jaime Aron
The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO - Maryland's Drew Nicholas has gone from junior reserve to senior scoring star. One thing he doesn't want to change is how his season ends. Nicholas hasn't forgotten the buzz of winning the national championship last season. If anything, reaching the regional quarterfinals has made the memory more vivid.

"That's probably the biggest thing we use," he said. "We know what the feeling is like, how special and how great it is. As we get closer, the feeling is getting stronger and stronger."

Nicholas is one of four starters who moved into the lineup this season, forcing the Terps (21-9) to remake themselves. Expectations were low from outsiders, but the players dedicated themselves to living up to their predecessors' standard.

So far, so good, as Maryland will face Michigan State (21-12) tonight (9:57 p.m. ET) in the Alamodome. The winner goes to the South Region final Sunday against either Texas or Connecticut.

"These guys are showing great character," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "I really respect what our seniors have accomplished because it would have been easy for them to just come in and play since they already had their ring. They will always be remembered for what they did last year.

"This year, they had to create their own identity. I am glad they took the time to see just how good they could be."

The Spartans are still remaking themselves from the squads that won a championship in 2000 and returned to the Final Four in 2001.

Forward Aloysius Anagonye was a freshman backup on the title team and he wants to go out the same way he came in - as a champion. Sophomores Chris Hill and Alan Anderson, the team's top two scorers, have made that their goal.

"These guys stepped up and told me they didn't want me to leave without a championship," Anagonye said. "Hopefully we'll keep on with the promise they gave me."

Despite having combined for four Final Four appearances and two titles the last three seasons, both rosters have turned over so much that the sixth-seeded Terrapins and seventh-seeded Spartans had to beat higher-seeded teams to get this far.

Michigan State made it look easy, beating Colorado by 15 and Florida by 22 in what coach Tom Izzo called two of the Spartans' best performances of the season.

Maryland needed a 3-pointer by Nicholas at the buzzer to beat UNC-Wilmington, then looked more like a champion in dominating Xavier on both ends of the court in a 13-point victory.

Nicholas credits the championship pedigree for keeping him from ever considering that the Terps would lose the opener. He said Thursday he was "so in tune to what we had to do" that the thought never crossed his mind, not even during a timeout with 5 seconds left and Maryland down by one.

Izzo remembers how hungry his 2001 team was to carry on the championship tradition despite a new cast. He sees many of those qualities in Maryland.

"It's harder to knock off a team with experience, that has been there before - as long as they're not cocky," Izzo said. "And I can't imagine Gary Williams would allow them to be cocky."

Another advantage he gives Maryland is Steve Blake, a four-year starter whose 969 assists are fifth-best in NCAA history.

"He's the consummate point guard and makes everyone around him better," Izzo said. "When you have a guy like that play four years, it's a double positive."

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