By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Perhaps it is Maryland's 2002 national championship, Xavier's tournament inexperience or the momentum Maryland might have from a last-second win Friday, but the sixth-seeded Terrapins are favored by two points over No. 3 seed Xavier (26-5) in today's NCAA Tournament second-round game.
The slight has not been lost on Xavier's players.
"We want to get what we deserve," senior guard Lionel Chalmers said. "Sometimes we don't get what we deserve. We have to prove it, and that's the bottom line. Regardless of what people are saying, or how they are rating us or whether they pick us to win the game or whatever the case may be, we'll continue to prove them wrong, and we'll continue to win."
For the second consecutive year, Xavier is playing for a chance to move onto the regional semifinals for the second time in school history. Unlike last season, it will be considered a large disappointment if Xavier doesn't reach the Sweet 16 after David West returned for his senior year.
So far, West has achieved most of what he wanted this season, including an Atlantic 10 regular-season championship and a national player of the year award. But last season's second-round loss to Oklahoma has been a motivator all season, and West wants to get further this time.
"That was one of the goals we set," West said. "We just want to make a run and see how far we can go."
Getting past Maryland (20-9) today at Gaylord Entertainment Center won't be easy. The Terrapins are playing to defend their national title and have momentum on their side after Drew Nicholas hit an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer Friday night to give Maryland a 75-73 win against UNC-Wilmington in the first round.
"We're trying to keep that championship," said Maryland senior point guard Steve Blake, the only returning starter from last season's team. "We don't want to give it away just yet."
And Xavier doesn't want to quit playing just yet. The Musketeers haven't shied away from discussing subjects like the Elite Eight and Final Four this season, partly because they saw last season how a successful NCAA Tournament team plays in March when Oklahoma pulled away late for a 78-65 win.
"We learned lessons from that game," West said. "We're playing the defending national champions, and they have guys who have been in this situation before. We feel like we've grown up since this time last year."
Xavier has four players with significant NCAA experience. Two starters, Dedrick Finn and Anthony Myles, will play in their second tournament game, but Finn said even he feels like he has experienced last season's loss.
"They always talk about how they went out and played as hard as they could," Finn said. "Then the last five, eight minutes of the game, (Oklahoma) was more mentally tough. They said that's what it's all about, being mentally tough."
There is no doubt Xavier will have a battle on its hands today from start to finish. Statistically, Maryland plays good defense and holds its opponents to an average of 37.8 percent from the field while making more than 46 percent of its shots. Nicholas, the understudy of last year's Final Four Most Valuable Player, Juan Dixon, is the main threat, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Maryland finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and lost its two games preceding the NCAAs. And although most players weren't integral parts of last season's team, Blake was, and coach Gary Williams said that is a big factor on the court.
Blake's experience as a four-year starter going against Finn, a freshman, adds to the list of reasons the Terrapins are viewed as the favorite.
"We've always been the underdog, but that motivates us to play a lot harder," Finn said.
"I can't wait. You know, they're the defending national champions, but that was last year. This is a new year, and we just want to go out there and try to shock the world."
Xavier vs. Maryland
Tipoff: 4:40 p.m. today, Gaylord Entertainment Center, Nashville (18,500)
Records: XU (26-5), Maryland (20-9).
TV: Ch. 12, 7.
Radio: WKRC-AM (550).
Series: Maryland leads 1-0.
Coach: Thad Matta (52-11,
second season; 76-19 overall).
Coach: Gary Williams (294-152, 14th season; 501-280 overall).
Full coverage at Cincinnati.com
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