Terrapins out to ruin the Bruins

No. 6 seed UCLA poses threat after seven straight wins

Sweet 16 trip at stake

Maryland faces team with proud tradition

Ncaa Tournament

March 18, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- It is the kind of blue blood that Maryland and coach Gary Williams relish beating.

The jersey is adorned with one of the magical names in college basketball. The program enjoys automatic entry into the home of nearly every big-name high school recruit. Their coach has been a target of criticism, and his players have been branded underachievers.

North Carolina?

No.

UCLA.

The Terps are the third seed in the Midwest Regional of this NCAA tournament, but some pundits are picking the underdog in tonight's second-round game against the sixth-seeded Bruins at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Auburn Hills, Mich., next Thursday.

While UCLA (20-11) has reeled off seven straight wins, including four straight since sophomore wing JaRon Rush's NCAA suspension was shortened two weeks ago, Maryland might again have to weave a patchwork rotation.

Sophomore forward Danny Miller ran some in practice yesterday for the first time since he sprained his left ankle in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last Sunday, but his lateral movement remains limited.

Freshman Tahj Holden started at power forward, and Terence Morris shifted to small forward in Thursday's first-round win over Iona, and it appears that's the way Maryland will start again tonight. The best-case scenario for the Terps is that Miller will be available for shorter than normal stints.

"Danny's ankle has progressed," Williams said. "Maybe he can give us some minutes. He's a tough kid, and he wants to play."

A loss would end a Maryland season that has seen three sophomores and three freshmen blend well with Morris, the versatile junior forward. A win would make Morris and classmate Mike Mardesich the first Terps to play in three consecutive Sweet 16s, and complete a remarkable grand slam for No. 17 Maryland (25-9).

Has anyone ever beaten Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA in a single season?

With apologies to Indiana coach Bob Knight -- as incongruous as that sounds -- those four programs are to college basketball what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were to the New Testament.

The four combined for six NCAA titles in the past decade. They own 23 titles in all, and nearly half of those banners hang in Pauley Pavilion, where John Wooden built the greatest dynasty in the history of major college sports, and Jim Harrick added an 11th championship in '95.

Harrick lost his job two years later in the fallout over recruiting violations, and UCLA elevated Steve Lavin.

While Bill Guthridge has been lambasted for North Carolina's listless play, sometimes it appears UCLA doesn't listen to its coach. Lavin is 35, but admits he has aged plenty.

"We've had a very bizarre stretch of injuries and suspensions," Lavin said. "It's been a challenging year, and it forced me to still play competitive basketball. I've had to grow and learn with the team."

While Juan Dixon has generated more heat in his left pinky than North Carolina's starting five of McDonald's All-Americans, UCLA has played with a purpose.

Fact is, the Bruins have much in common with the Terps.

Both teams lost premier guards before their eligibility was up, as Steve Francis and Baron Davis were the second and third players selected in the NBA draft last June. On both teams, the senior class consists of one walk-on. While a Matt Hahn appearance makes official a Maryland rout, Sean Farnham has become UCLA's good-luck charm. He's averaging just seven minutes, but the late-season surge began when he started against Oregon.

Both teams want to run, but have come to realize that there are times when they have to settle down and run their offense from the inside out. Despite interior talent like Maryland's Morris and Lonny Baxter, and UCLA's Jerome Moiso and Dan Gadzuric, each is led in scoring by a supremely confident kid on the wing.

That would be Dixon for Maryland, and Pac-10 co-Freshman of the Year Jason Kapono for UCLA.

Both teams had a dip in 2000 when fans wondered if they would even make this tournament. Maryland lost its first three ACC games, and UCLA dropped six of seven before its current win streak. Both showed their mettle on the road against conference foes that would earn top seeds in this tournament, as Maryland won at Duke and UCLA at Stanford.

"We're playing a team that's playing as well as anybody in the country right now," Williams said of a team that remains unranked. "Most people feel they've raised their game up a level. They look very comfortable playing with each other and have great athleticism with their size. They have good size, but their big people are good athletes, too.

"They're one of those teams whose seed doesn't reflect where they are right now."

Maryland comes up short against UCLA in one area: tradition. Fortunately, that's irrelevant to these Terps, the oldest of whom was born two years after Wooden retired. They have become accustomed to taking down bigger names, as they beat Kentucky in December, and Duke and North Carolina last month.

"Doing that in the good old days would have meant that we were No. 1," Mardesich said. "With all of the parity in college basketball now, it just means that we're a pretty good team."

Williams isn't one to trademark catch phrases, and the Terps don't have any knockout nicknames. Their identity has become that of a team that sees to the minor details and is prepared to play every night.

"We can't do all of the things we used to, but we make the extra pass and take care of the little things," Morris said. "Nobody's paying attention to us, and we use that to our advantage."

Terps tonight

Opponent: UCLA (20-11)

What: Second round, NCAA Midwest Regional

Time: 8: 08 p.m.*

Where: Metrodome, Minneapolis

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Today's other Midwest games

At Minneapolis

Iowa State (30-4) vs.

Auburn (24-9), 5: 38 p.m.

At Cleveland

Syracuse (25-5) vs.

Kentucky (23-9), 1: 10 p.m.

Michigan State (27-7) vs.

Utah (23-8), 3: 40 p.m.*

*-Approximate

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