Stokes-Bibby matchup points to trouble

March 19, 1998|By John Eisenberg

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Terrell Stokes against Mike Bibby?

Just thinking about that matchup is enough to send Maryland basketball fans to the aspirin bottle.

And wait until the reality of it unfolds tonight when the Terps play Arizona in the NCAA West Regional semifinals at the Arrowhead Pond.

The Terps believe they can spring an upset on the defending national champions, but the point guard matchup isn't exactly a step in that direction.

Bibby is Jason Kidd with a jump shot, a supremely quick sophomore All-American who can shoot, pass, dribble and jump -- jump to the NBA as a lottery pick, that is, maybe as soon as next season.

The Wildcats are loaded with other stars such as Miles Simon, the MVP in last year's Final Four, and Michael Dickerson, the team's leading scorer, but it is Bibby, the son of former NBA star Henry Bibby, who has the rare talent that makes them special.

Stokes? He was a high school All-American who was supposed to become the Terps' best point guard since John Lucas, but he hasn't come close to that level and fans are ready to replace him in next year's lineup if junior college star Steve Francis signs.

Yes, each team will have four other players on the floor, and an assortment of other matchups and strategies will help determine the outcome, but point guards are critical in March and what are the Terps going to do about that?

Well, uh, hmmm, let's see. That's a good question, isn't it? Is there anything they can do about their shortfall at the point?

They can hope the other players make up the difference, that's what they can do.

And they can try to slow the pace enough to minimize Bibby's impact.

But mostly, they can only hope Bibby has a relatively quiet night and Stokes plays the game of his life.

Any takers on that scenario?

Wait, there's one.

"I'm ready, I can't wait," Stokes said after practice yesterday.

Reporters were swirling around his locker, asking him about the daunting task of opposing Bibby.

Stokes shrugged.

"Bibby plays great, but I've seen it before," he said. "It's nothing I haven't seen. I've played against [Stephon] Marbury, [Chauncey] Billups, all the top point guards. Bibby isn't any different."

Those are tough words, but Stokes is nothing if not a tough kid.

He played at the top level of the national summer camp circuit on his way through Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High School in the early '90s, in the process growing accustomed to blue-chip opposition.

"At one camp," he said, "it was Marbury one day, Billups the next, then others right on down the line. So it doesn't bother me to play Bibby. Don't get me wrong, I admire his game and he deserves all the acclaim. But I'm not nervous or anything. I'm ready to play."

The Terps don't need him to score, of course. They haven't asked him to score since early in the season, when Terps coach Gary Williams narrowed his role to handling the ball and running the offense smoothly.

To Stokes' credit, he has bounced back from a slump and excelled at those tasks, particularly recently. He also hit some big baskets against Illinois last weekend when the Illini left him completely alone on the perimeter.

"'Bibby is a wonderful player," Williams said yesterday, "but Terrell has really played well for us lately. He doesn't get the

[point and assist] numbers that Bibby gets, but he has done a good job of running our offense and playing defense."

That's all well and good, but hey, let's not kid. Talking about this as a reasonable matchup is one thing, and the reality of it is another.

Bibby's only shortcoming as a freshman last season was inconsistency, and he has eliminated that, scoring in double figures in 31 of 33 games this season.

"He's just so versatile," Williams said. "He's a great shooter and scorer, but he also is just great at getting the ball to the other guys. He understands that his first responsibility as the point guard is to get everyone else involved. If someone else on the floor needs to get going, they get the shots they need."

It's assumed in Arizona that this is Bibby's last college season, although he has two years of eligibility left. The pros think he is ready. Sacramento Kings vice president Geoff Petrie recently said Bibby "definitely" would be the first point guard taken if he turned pro.

All Bibby says is his mind is made up and he'll reveal his decision after the season.

Not that long ago, people thought Stokes might have the same kind of career -- start high, shoot higher.

Instead, he's still at Maryland taking heat on the talk shows, while Marbury is a star in the NBA, Billups is a rookie there and Bibby probably is headed there.

Does he take it personally?

"Basketball is never personal," Stokes said yesterday, "and it's never about pressure to me."

He smiled as the cameras rolled and reporters knelt at his knees, writing every word.

"This is the kind of situation you dream about," he said. "We're in the Sweet 16, we're playing the defending champs, a team that has a great backcourt. This is what you live for. This is what you play for. I can hardly wait."

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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