Night sessions wake Nicholas from slump

Terps guard joins Dixon in gym late, rebounds with 16 points, 10 assists

College Basketball

March 04, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - If the shots stop falling, Maryland guards Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas have found a solution.

Hit the gym. Not just after practice or during the day, but around midnight.

The late-night sessions worked for Dixon's woes three weeks ago, and helped backup point guard Nicholas regain his aggressiveness yesterday. Nicholas scored 16 points and dished out 10 assists in the Terps' 102-67 win over Virginia at Cole Field House.

This after playing just two minutes, his shortest outing of the season, against Duke on Tuesday. That was the capper of a tough four-game stretch, in which Nicholas combined to shoot 0-for-9 from the field and scored just one point.

It led the 6-foot-3 Nicholas to spend more time shooting this week, following in Dixon's footsteps. Dixon, who scored 21 points yesterday and has been playing his best ball of the season since a disappointing showing Feb. 14 against Florida State, credited his turnaround to the extra time he put in late at night at Cole Field House since that game.

After the blowout win over the Cavaliers yesterday, Nicholas also credited midnight basketball.

"Early in the season, I wasn't getting in the gym and shooting a lot because my shot was feeling well. I hit that dry spell, so I got back in the gym, worked on my mechanics," Nicholas said. "A couple of times, me and Juan bumped heads coming in here late at night shooting. We'll just shoot around and talk."

Nicholas made seven of eight shots yesterday, including two from behind the three-point line. He played a season-high 27 minutes, partly because starter Steve Blake picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the game. That forced Nicholas to finish the rest of the half.

From there, Nicholas scored seven points, including a three-pointer with just over two minutes left that put Maryland up by 14, its largest lead of the first half. He also had four assists.

"When Steve got two fouls and Drew was able to come in and play the point like he did, there was no loss of momentum for us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

"Drew had to step up, and he did."

The strong first half led to more minutes in the second. Nicholas seemed to relish the chance and put on a show for the sold-out crowd. In a rare time when he and Blake were on the court together, Nicholas stole the ball from Virginia guard Roger Mason and tossed it to Danny Miller, who found Blake running the floor for an easy layup.

With the crowd already on its feet following that play, Blake stole the ball from Virginia forward Maurice Young and found Nicholas for a breakaway dunk. Nicholas was virtually alone, and the only drama was if he could get up high enough to send it home. Once he did, the crowd let out its loudest roar on a day when there were many chances to scream.

"I just kind of got up there," Nicholas said. "Some of the guys afterwards said they thought I was a little too far out. But, when your adrenaline is flowing, you can get up there pretty good."

Nicholas said he knew it was his night early in the first half after he hit his first couple of shots. With his shot working, he said he just had to remember to get his teammates involved, something that's not always easy for a natural two guard.

This is his first season as a full-time point guard.

"You have to give Drew a lot of credit - he never played point guard," Terps forward Byron Mouton said. "He was always the three-point specialist.

"Last year, coach wanted me to play point a couple of times and it is real hard. ... But Drew just did a great job for us."

When Dixon and Nicholas are both on the court, the Terps field one of the best pure-shooting backcourts heading into this week's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

After tying his season high, Nicholas' confidence is soaring, much like the confidence of his late-night shooting partner.

"On different nights, different people have to step up," Nicholas said. "When you watch a lot of NCAA tournament games, a lot of times that happens. Hopefully, going into the ACC tournament, somebody can step up so we can win."

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