Terps escort Aggies to exit Maryland dismisses Utah State, recent history in 82-68 win

Dunbar's Elliott scores 21

Illinois stands in way of Sweet 16 entrance

March 13, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- They will tell you that it wasn't about the past two NCAA tournaments, that it was simply about showing off the same muscles they had flexed during a recent four-game winning streak and the first 30 minutes against North Carolina on Saturday.

Buy that, and we've got some cliff-side property for you to look at just north of Los Angeles.

No. 20 Maryland pounded Utah State, 82-68, in a West Regional first-round game in the NCAA tournament yesterday. The Terps' cushion was never less than 10 points in the last 18 minutes, but in the first half, the possibility of Nightmare on NCAA Street III did cross a few minds.

Maryland (20-10) methodically moved to a 14-3 lead. After a Lilliputian-like lineup from Utah State used a 13-0 run to go on top midway through the first half, did the upset losses in the first round of the past two national tournaments weigh at all on the Terps?

"Yeah, no question about it," senior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius said. "That was in the back of your mind. You have to correct your mistakes. One of the biggest corrections we made is that we had a good regular season. You have a good season, you get a good seed. Work hard, and there's going to be a payoff. That's what we did today."

The reward for fourth-seeded Maryland's effort will come at the Arco Arena tomorrow (4: 30 p.m.) when the Terps face No. 5 seed Illinois. Beat that BigTen team, and they'll be in the Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons.

"In three years out of five, we've gotten past the first round," coach Gary Williams said when asked about the toll of the early exits the past two years. "That's pretty good. I'm proud of what we've done the last five seasons. I'm proud of what we've done this season."

Williams was a tad less complimentary during a four-minute span in the first half, when Maryland was confounded by Utah State's four-guard lineup.

He went smaller himself, and the Terps parlayed a different look and some clutch three-pointers by Jasikevicius into another dominating performance, the kind that has become routine lately and had them in position to beat No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals last week.

Larry Eustachy, the coach of No. 13 seed Utah State (25-8), said "our game is rebounding and guarding," and the Aggies couldn't do much of either.

Maryland took advantage of its considerable height advantage and got enough lay-ins and dunks to make 55.2 percent of its shots, its best marksmanship in more than two months. The Terps also enjoyed a 38-24 bulge on the boards, their biggest margin there in three months.

Illinois, by the way, doesn't have much of an inside game, either.

Marcus Saxon, the superb point guard who was nearly unstoppable in the Big West Conference tournament, scored 25 points, and Williams didn't care. He started Terrell Stokes, not his best perimeter defender, on Saxon, but when the 6-foot-2 senior did penetrate, he didn't always have his usual options.

"The idea was to shut everyone else down," Williams said.

Maryland did that. The Terps posted up everyone except equipment manager John Bowie, but they took command late in the first half with some clutch three-point shooting.

The game plan was to immediately go inside to junior center Obinna Ekezie and senior forward Rodney Elliott. The Terps made five of their first six shots, got that 14-3 lead and put Utah State in early foul trouble, but the four-guard lineup got the Aggies back in it.

Utah State went ahead 20-18 on two free throws by Neal Geddes with 10: 04 left in the first half. The Aggies took their last lead at 28-26 with 7: 03 left, on two more free throws by Saxon.

Ekezie tied it with a follow basket. Kovarik promptly stripped Saxon and fed Laron Profit for a cherry-picking dunk, and then Jasikevicius supplied the coup de grace, his second and third three-pointers of a six-minute stretch. Elliott dropped in another bomb with 33 seconds left for a 44-36 cushion at the half.

Before the second half started, the five starters huddled for close to a minute and talked about fundamentals and keeping the defensive pressure on. They quickly pushed the difference up to 50-38, then completed the kind of balanced performance that has become this team's trademark.

Elliott had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Ekezie 17 and seven. Somebody in the locker room who doesn't understand the Terps asked Profit, their leading scorer on the season, about the others overcoming his subpar game. Well, he scored 12 points on as many shots, and had six assists and two steals.

In the backcourt, Jasikevicius had 16. Stokes and Kovarik had one basket between them, but they did combine for 12 assists and provide the direction when there were questions about whether the Terps were headed onto the second round or back to another disappointment like they had the past two Marches.

"Nobody said anything about it, but I'm sure we wanted to get that monkey off our back," said Kovarik, a fifth-year senior. "Now some of our players know how good it feels to get to the second round. I've told them, [winning] the next one feels twice as good as this does."

Next for Terps

Who: Maryland (20-10) vs. Illinois (23-9)

What: NCAA tournament West Regional, second round

Where: Sacramento, Calif.

When: Tomorrow, 4: 30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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