Terps face two triple threats With 3 All-Americans, ability to hit 3, Arizona does a number on foes

'Pretty similar to Duke'

Champs' scoring runs prove tough to combat

March 19, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Maryland has to stop the Big Three. Would that be Arizona's All-America trio of Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon, or the Wildcats' prowess beyond the three-point line?

Try answer C, as in both of the above.

The Terps, seeded fourth in the West Regional, will try to do what no one has done since March 22, 1996, beat the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament. Lute Olson's team is mounting a serious defense of its national championship, as Maryland will discover tonight (10: 25) at the Arrowhead Pond.

The survivor of the semifinal will play either Utah or West Virginia on Saturday, and that winner will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio next week.

Maryland likes to play fast, Arizona faster. The Terps haven't indicated that they want to slow the tempo, but coach Gary Williams would be suicidal to push the pace against the Wildcats.

Or would he?

"Arizona has four quality guards," junior center Obinna Ekezie said, "but they're not any different from any team in the ACC. Anything that Arizona presents will not be new to us. We're just going to go out and play our style."

That's easy for Ekezie to say, considering he doesn't match up with the Wildcats' perimeter people, one of the best groups of their kind to grace college basketball recently.

Comparisons have been made to Nevada-Las Vegas' 1990 title team, which included Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Anderson Hunt. Laron Profit, Maryland's junior forward and resident historian, went all the way back to when he was in the sixth grade for a reference.

"They remind me of Michigan," Profit said of the Wolverines' 1989 champions. "It's sort of like Rumeal Robinson, Sean Higgins, Glen Rice. Any one of three players have the ability to take over a game. Any one is capable of going on a run by himself."

This will complete the circuit for Maryland against the tournament's four No. 1 seeds. The Terps beat Kansas in December and North Carolina two months ago, but the opponent Arizona most resembles is Duke, which spanked the Terps by 32 and 27 points in January.

"They're pretty similar to Duke," Williams said, "in their ability to get shots in transition."

The Blue Devils led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring, with 85.8 points per game. The Wildcats average 92.4. Duke has made 37.0 percent of its three-pointers. Arizona has hit 38.2.

Profit will match up with Dickerson, a second-team All-American probably because voters couldn't justify placing him on the first team along with Bibby and Simon. He's made a team-leading 42.2 percent of his three-pointers. In the backcourt, Bibby has hit 38.7 percent, Simon 37.4.

Think a bigger Shammond Williams, times three.

Maryland, which was susceptible to the long-range shooting of Duke and Wake Forest, has improved its perimeter defense with a 3-2 zone. While few coaches have thrown a zone at Arizona, the three-pointer is hardly its lone offensive strategy.

If point guard Bibby isn't penetrating, Simon or Dickerson are. Olson has a small lineup that inserts 6-foot-2 Jason Terry and sends Dickerson to the four spot. Turn up the pressure, and watch the Wildcats pull away.

In last Saturday's second round, Arizona was tied with Illinois State early in the second half, before it went on a 27-2 run. During the regular season it began the second half against Kansas State by scoring 27 straight points. There was a 25-4 spurt at Arizona State, and a 15-0 lead on Oregon before the Ducks knew what hit them.

How to combat that explosiveness?

"We like to run, we like to press, that's always been our style," Williams said. "You can't change completely for one game. We like to think our players are really good, the way we're playing this time of year."

Arizona has won 22 of its last 23, but Maryland has won six of its last seven and nine of its last 12.

The Wildcats have five players averaging in double figures, but the Terps have four, and balance has been their strength during a late-season surge in which most wins were by comfortable margins. Before Ekezie's free throws rescued a second-round win over Illinois, the Terps hadn't won a close game since Feb. 7, at Florida State.

"If you're going to beat Arizona, it's going to be in a close game," said Sarunas Jasikevicius, who should draw Simon. "Going through that against Illinois, maybe that will help."

Maryland will look to Jasikevicius, who has been on fire the last six games, and Rodney Elliott, the senior forward from Dunbar High who sat down for only seven minutes in Sacramento, Calif., last week. The Terps hope Profit finds his touch. He's made just 37.7 percent of his shots in the postseason, and has missed eight of his last nine three-pointers.

The Terps have talked about the Wildcats all season. Arizona was a No. 4 seed last year, and that's what Maryland is. The Wildcats made a run through No. 1 teams, the Terps are halfway there. Neither team feels it is respected in the East, and Arizona ++ has heard enough of Maryland's talk.

"They [the Terps] say they've played the best teams in the country, that's fine," Simon said. "They haven't played the best. Let's see what happens on the court. Our team feels we're the best in the country. We feel they haven't played the best yet."

Terps tonight

Who: Maryland (21-10) vs. Arizona (29-4)

What: NCAA tournament West Regional semifinals

Where: Anaheim, Calif.

When: 10: 25

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

Line: Arizona by 8

Tonight's other TV game

North Carolina (32-3) vs. Mich. State (22-7), 7: 39

Tomorrow's TV games

Duke (31-3) vs. Syracuse (26-8), 7: 39 p.m.

Kentucky (31-4) vs. UCLA (24-8), 9: 59 p.m.

All games on chs. 13, 9

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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