ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Maryland's season is over.
Arizona's All-American-stoked quest for a repeat NCAA championship continues.
The fourth-seeded Terps dreamed of recording what might have been the program's biggest basketball victory in a generation at the Arrowhead Pond last night, but their upset bid in the West Regional semifinals was turned back by the Wildcats, 87-79.
After being down 14 points, Maryland closed to within 57-56 with 10: 40 left. But Arizona ran off nine straight points to secure the victory.
Top-seeded Arizona (30-4) will meet Utah in the regional final tomorrow (3: 40 p.m.). The Terps last reached that plateau in 1975, as 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.
A veteran Maryland team (21-11) was buoyed by six wins in its previous seven games and regular-season defeats of North Carolina and Kansas, two of the other No. 1 seeds, but Arizona's talent was too much to overcome. The Wildcats made the Terps their 23rd victim in 24 games.
The Wildcats shut down some of the Terps' main offensive options, Obinna Ekezie and Sarunas Jasikevicius, and got 26 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range from Mike Bibby, their sophomore point guard who's one-half of the All-American backcourt, teammate Miles Simon (18 points) being the other. Simon scored 18 points, 12 in the second half, as all five Wildcats starters finished in double figures. Laron Profit led Maryland with 19 points with Rodney Elliott contributing 16.
Arizona never trailed, but coach Lute Olson sweated from nervousness after Maryland made a run midway through the second half.
When Bennett Davison posted up Rodney Elliott in the fourth minute of the second half, the Terps were down 52-38 and in serious difficulty. Maryland tightened its belt and went on an 18-5 run that got the Terps within 57-56 with 10: 33 left on a ## backdoor cut by Terrell Stokes and a smart assist from freshman Terence Morris.
Arizona rapidly responded, however, and reeled off nine unanswered points.
Michael 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 A. J. Bramlett to push the spread back up to 66-57.
Sarunas Jasikevicius, who at that point was 0-for-6 from the field, stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer from the left side, but the foul-plagued Terps didn't have much left at that point. They stayed within five points at 68-63 and 70-65, but then the Wildcats closed the door with a trio of three-pointers in a two-minute span, two by Simon and one by Bibby.
Ekezie, Elliott and Mike Mardesich all fouled out, as Arizona went right at Maryland's big men.
Maryland's gutty 18-5 run started was triggered by Profit, the junior forward who turned in a gutty performance, scoring 19 points on a tender ankle. He missed four of his first five shots, but he kept challenging Dickerson, and his three from the top of the key got the Terps going.
Profit followed with a three-point play, and Elliott and Stokes connected from the beyond the arc. After a Davison free throw, Elliott scored on a post-up, and then Stokes rolled in the pass from Morris.
The Terps should have known they were in trouble with 16 minutes left, when Davison, who's not normally a scorer, had 11 points to Elliott's 10.
The clock read 7: 31 at the start, 10: 31 back East, and the Terps were behind the times from the start. Arizona's edge in quickness was evident immediately, and instead of taking a tip from its mascot and playing the tortoise, the Terps were determined to play the hare.
Unable to get the ball inside to Ekezie -- who had two fouls in the first six minutes -- Maryland rushed its shot selection against a team intent on giving the Terps no easy looks. After eight minutes, Maryland had made just three of its 16 shots, and was behind 19-9.
Ekezie didn't have a single field-goal attempt in the first half. Simon never let Jasikevicius square up for a shot, and the Terps senior guard, who had been so hot in the postseason, was 0-for-4 in the first half. When the Wildcats weren't double-teaming the ball, they were triple-teaming it, as Maryland committed 11 first-half turnovers, five days after having four for the entire game against Illinois.
Over the last 12 minutes of the half, the Terps steadied themselves a bit and had a chance to go down only seven at the break, but Dickerson's 15-footer from the right baseline with three seconds remaining raised the Arizona lead to 42-33.
Few teams attempted to play zone against the Wildcats' arsenal three-point shooters, but Williams went to his 3-2. It disrupted all but one of Arizona's All-Americans, as Bibby made all four of his threes in the first half and had 18 points in the first 20 minutes alone.
The spread grew to 33-21 on a sequence that displayed Arizona's athleticism. Jasikevicius' backdoor lob pass to Laron Profit was short, and stolen by junior center A. J. Bramlett. At the other end, senior forward Bennett Davison completed the transition play with an alley-oop dunk off a feed from Bibby.
Maryland bounced back with a jumper from the top of the key by Elliott and got a break when Terence Morris banked in a three. The Terps had a chance to trim the difference to four points, but Stokes hurried a three-pointer, and the Wildcats turned the miss into a transition basket by Simon.
Pub Date: 3/20/98