ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Arizona coach Lute Olson was sweating, Maryland's players were primed to pull off a monster upset in the NCAA tournament, and their fans were on their feet, ready to soak up the program's most significant victory in a generation.
Mike Bibby and company quickly put a stop to the madness.
Down by 14 points with 16 minutes left, the Terps got up off the Arrowhead Pond's floor and stunned the Wildcats with an 18-5 run that brought them within one with 10 minutes left. Arizona, however, answered with nine straight points, then knocked out Maryland with some late three-pointers for an 87-79 victory in their West Regional semifinal.
"They showed me why they're the defending national champions," said Laron Profit, Maryland's junior forward. "I've seen teams with that much quickness, but the way they run, with all-out abandon, I've never seen anything like that."
The Wildcats (30-4) rely on Bibby and two other All-Americans on the perimeter, but this was a superbly balanced victory for the Pac-10 champions, who will continue their quest for a repeat NCAA title in the West final tomorrow against Utah.
The Terps (21-11) last reached a regional final in 1975. This was the third time in five seasons and the fifth in the 20-year coaching career of Gary Williams that they were stopped in the Sweet 16.
"We took 16 three-pointers in the first half, and that's just not us," said Williams, whose team never led and never completely recovered from being down by as many as 12 points in the first half. "It was nice to make the comeback, but it would have been nicer to play well in the first half."
The Wildcats shut down two of the Terps' main offensive options, Obinna Ekezie and Sarunas Jasikevicius, and placed all five of their starters in double figures.
They got 26 points from Bibby, who made five of his six three-pointers. Miles Simon, the other half of the All-American backcourt, shadowed Jasikevicius and crammed 12 of his 18 points into the second half. Second-team All-American Michael Dickerson dueled Profit to a standstill, but the Wildcats also prospered inside.
Power forward Bennett Davison isn't supposed to be much of an offensive threat, but he matched Rodney Elliott's 16 points. The Wildcats went inside and fouled out Elliott, Ekezie and Mike Mardesich, as Arizona outscored Maryland 24-10 at the free-throw line.
"We wanted to attack their big men," Olson said. "Maryland made a great run, but the key to the game is that they shot 37.2 percent from the field. You talk about our scoring, but it was our defense that made the difference. That's what carries this team."
Maryland tried to run with Arizona early, jacked up too many hasty threes and fell behind 19-9, at which point it was 3-for-16 from the field.
The Terps committed 11 turnovers in the first half alone, when the Wildcats denied them anything resembling a decent look at the basket.
"I didn't get any good looks, and when I did, I was in a hurry," said Jasikevicius, who had been on fire in the last five games, but missed his first six shots. "They switch a lot, and they eliminated our screens. We didn't recognize the mismatches, but Arizona is so quick, maybe there aren't any mismatches against them."
Playing on a tender ankle that he turned in practice Monday, Profit made only one of his first six shots, but he got by Dickerson for 19 points, and fought his way for a game-high 10 rebounds. Point guard Terrell Stokes and freshman reserve Terence Morris had 11 apiece, and their connection concluded the 18-5 spurt that should have had Arizona reeling.
When Stokes came open off a screen and Morris fed him for a finger roll, it cut what had been a 52-38 Arizona lead to 57-56 with 10: 33 left. The Terps thought they were ready to finish off their upset bid, but the Wildcats don't fold that easily.
"I thought we had a chance," Jasikevicius said, "but then they picked it up and we couldn't sustain what we had going."
After Olson called for a 20-second timeout, Dickerson drove for a basket. After Elliott's attempt was roughed up, Simon penetrated and scored. Simon then fed a cutting Dickerson for a three-point play that fouled out Elliott, and Bibby assisted center A. J. Bramlett to get the difference back up to 66-57.
Jasikevicius stopped the bleeding with his only basket, a three-pointer from the left side, and the Terps were within five points with four minutes left.
But the Wildcats closed the door with a flurry of three-pointers in a two-minute span, two by Simon and one by Bibby.
Few teams confronted that arsenal with a zone this season, but Williams went to his 3-2 midway through the first half. It disrupted all but Bibby, as he made all four of his threes in the first half and had 18 points in the first 20 minutes alone.
While Dickerson and Simon were slow getting started, Davison and Bramlett neutralized Elliott and Ekezie, who didn't even get a shot off in the first half.