In final analysis, Maryland so close, yet so far away

March 20, 1998|By John Eisenberg

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rodney Elliott stared at a copy of the box score and shook his head.

"You have to play a whole game, not half a game," he said.

That's what cost Maryland in its NCAA West Regional semifinal against Arizona last night at the Arrowhead Pond.

"Our first half was just poor, and it was too much for us to overcome in the end," Terps coach Gary Williams said after Arizona's 87-79 victory.

The Terps still managed to carry their dream of an upset into the second half, cutting Arizona's 14-point lead to one with 10 minutes to play.

But the Wildcats didn't let that dream last long.

They responded to the Terps' challenge in the classic style of a defending national champion, scoring nine straight points and 22 of the next 33 to pull away.

"They're good, they back up what they say," Williams said. "And we were tired after coming back."

In the end, the Terps just weren't good enough, period.

If they were going to pull an upset, they needed to play one of their best games and force Arizona into an off night.

They didn't do it.

They shot 34 percent in the first half and 37 percent overall, displaying little of the sharp passing and shooting that had marked their recent run.

Basically, the Wildcats dominated from the beginning with their superior quickness.

That quickness led to a high-pressure defense that took the Terps out of the offensive rhythm that had carried them this far, disrupting their favorite patterns and plays. The result was a steady drip of forced passes, turnovers and poor shots, and no production whatsoever from Obinna Ekezie and Sarunas Jasikevicius.

"We were out of character in that first half," Williams said. "We shot 16 three-pointers. We usually don't do that in a whole game. We usually go inside a lot more."

The Terps also didn't get their usual scoring balance. Ekezie was no factor after getting into early foul trouble, and Jasikevicius was almost invisible, making just one of seven shots.

Laron Profit led the Terps with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but he needed 21 shots to reach that scoring total and forced many misses along the way.

Profit did battle hard inside against a defense that contested every pass and shot. Unlike Ekezie and Jasikevicius, who seemed to shrink at the tough defense, Profit barged into the middle and did what he could.

Point guard Terrell Stokes also played gamely in his matchup with All-American Mike Bibby, contributing 11 points, seven assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes. Bibby led all scorers with 26.

An added problem was foul trouble on the Terps' big men. Ekezie attempted just five shots. Elliott fouled out with 8: 19 to play after scoring 16 points. The Terps wound up having to play freshman Mike Mardesich 19 minutes, far more than they had wanted. And Mardesich also fouled out.

With the Wildcats putting what amounted to an NBA team on the floor -- Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson all probably will play for pay next season -- the Terps couldn't win with freshmen and reserves.

It was, in the end, a typical game between a team thrilled to make the Sweet 16 and a team with real designs on a national title.

The Terps competed hard, scrapped for baskets and put together a terrific rally in the second half, but they couldn't sustain it. In the end, it took too much out of them to come back from a horrific first half in which they missed 13 of their first 16 shots and 20 of their first 26 as they tried to adjust to Arizona's quickness.

With a nine-point lead at halftime that grew to 14 early in the second half, the Wildcats seemed in control.

But the Terps rallied. Profit hit a three-pointer, then scored inside and was fouled. A three-pointer from Stokes cut the lead to four and, after an Arizona free throw, a jumper from Elliott cut it to three.

Stokes shot a three to tie with 11: 15 left, but it clanged off the rim.

The Terps pulled within one at 57-56 on another Stokes basket, but that was their last view of the Wildcats. The Terps suddenly stopped functioning on offense, and that was that.

"We just couldn't get over the hump," Williams said. "I was real proud of the way we came back. But you want to win the game."

The Terps had done a good job of slowing down the tempo and keeping the Wildcats from going off on one of their famous runs, but the Wildcats had one ready when they needed it.

On successive possessions, Elliott missed a jumper, Jasikevicius missed a three-pointer, Terence Morris missed a three-pointer and Profit lost a ball out of bounds. At the other end, the Wildcats scored seven points to build their lead back to eight.

Elliott fouled out going for a rebound on the Terps' next series, their fifth possession in a row without a point, and the Wildcats' A. J. Bramlett scored on a dunk. Suddenly, the lead was back to 10 with 7: 45 left.

The Terps got the margin back down to five with four minutes left, but Simon hit two three-pointers that sent the crowd heading for the exits.

The Terps had fought hard, but in the end, they just weren't good enough.

Sweet 16?

Maryland has lost in its past six appearances in an NCAA regional semifinal:

Year Opponent .. .. .. Result

1980 Georgetown ... .. L, 74-68

1984 Illinois .. .. .. L, 72-70

1985 Villanova . .. .. L, 46-43

1994 Michigan .. .. .. L, 78-71

1995 Connecticut .. .. L, 99-89

1998 Arizona ... .. .. L, 87-79

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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