No. 3 Terps no small potatoes

Maryland: Uplifted by a 6-1 finish and high seeding, the Terps head to Boise, Idaho, to met George Mason

March 12, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins still have much work to do, but they completed one phase of a remarkable turnaround yesterday by earning their eighth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

Less than four weeks after com-pleting a 1-5 slump by losing to the last-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 11 Maryland is headed west once again to begin its quest for the first national championship in school history.

And as the third seed in the West Regional, Maryland will start by facing a familiar opponent in an unfamiliar place. The Terps are going to potato country- Idaho - to square off against 14th-seeded George Mason on Thursday at the Boise State University Pavilion. Tip-off time will be approximately 3:10 p.m.

"What do I know about Idaho? Not much at all," said Maryland junior forward Danny Miller. "We're happy with our bracket. It's in Idaho, but we're glad to be back in the tournament again."

The Terps (21-10) are seeded in the West for the fourth time since making their first trip to the NCAAs under 12-year coach Gary Williams in 1994. Their first task this week is to beat the Colonial Athletic Association champion, which has Maryland's full attention.

George Mason (18-11) came to Cole Field House last season and put a major scare into Maryland, which pulled out a 69-66 victory on Dec. 27, 1999, before going on to finish with a 25-10 record by losing in the second round of the NCAAs. The Patriots are led by 30-year-old center George Evans, a 6-foot-7 veteran of the Gulf War.

Maryland, which has won six of its past seven games and is fresh off a thrilling, 84-82 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals, figures to advance to an interesting second-round matchup.

A victory over George Mason would pit the Terps against sixth-seeded Wisconsin, which beat Maryland in overtime on Nov. 29 and was a Final Four participant last March, or No. 11 seed Georgia State (28-4), which is led by former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell.

Looming on the horizon at the West Regional in Anaheim, Calif., is second-seeded Iowa State and top-seeded, top-ranked Stanford. Then again, Terps guard Juan Dixon insists there will be no looking ahead to anyone.

"You lose one game, you're gone. We're going out there to take care of business and win basketball games," said Dixon, who leads Maryland with an 18.4 scoring average.

"We had high expectations coming into the season, but there's no pressure now. We're just relaxing and enjoying the game," Dixon added. "Right now, we're playing some of the best ball in the country. We just need to go into the George Mason game with the same effort we showed against Duke. Hopefully, we can get Coach Williams past the Sweet 16."

Williams, who has won 445 games over 23 seasons at four different schools and has 238 victories at Maryland, has never been beyond the round of 16. He has gotten six teams that far, including four in College Park.

Yesterday, Williams celebrated the victory that has been Maryland's dramatic reversal of fortune. On Feb. 14, the Terps lost at Cole Field House to Florida State, which marked their fifth loss in six games and suddenly made Maryland look like an NCAA tournament bubble team.

After that, Maryland went on a rampage by winning six consecutive games by an average of 19.5 points, including five victories against ranked opponents. And the Terps were proud in defeat on Saturday to Duke, which hung on after taking a 14-point lead early in the second half at the Georgia Dome.

"I remember walking out of the tunnel at Cole Field House after the Florida State game, and some guy up in the stands said, `Good luck in the NIT,' " Williams recalled. "That was a motivation for me personally. Now that we're a No. 3 seed, I'd like to see that person again."

Maryland is seeking its first trip to the Final Four. The Terps have not been to the Elite Eight since Driesell guided them there 26 years ago.

Williams looks at his depth and sees a team with fresh legs and enough talent to go deep into the tournament. The Terps have a healthy, 10-man rotation and appear to be peaking at the right time.

And they can draw on a reservoir of experience, starting with that trying 1-5 stretch that Maryland erased with victories over Duke and Oklahoma (the Big 12 champion and a No. 4 seed in the South), a 35-point pasting of Virginia, and two convincing wins over Wake Forest.

"I've never had that big of a change [during one season]," Williams said. "To be able to do that, you have to have people of character. You can push the right buttons in terms of saying things, but you're not going to make people do something they're not capable of. Obviously, our players were."

Williams says the Terps can gain an advantage by knowing George Mason and the threat the Patriots posed last season.

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