From afar, Terps at home

Sweet 16 game pitting neighbors `feels good,' but Hoyas strangers

Ncaa Tournament

March 19, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

BOISE, Idaho -- As Gary Williams and the Maryland Terrapins were scrambling to catch a plane to Southern California, there was little time to reflect on a victorious opening weekend in the NCAA tournament.

The Terps are back where they want to be -- in the Sweet 16, with a shot at their first trip to the Final Four.

Maryland will spend the next few days buried in preparation for Georgetown, a school the Terps have not faced in more than seven years. These opponents, a short drive apart, will meet some 2,500 miles away from home on Thursday at 7:55 p.m. in the West Regional semifinals at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.

Yesterday, the Terps still were trying to iron out practice sites and times over the next few days in the Los Angeles area. Such is life when you are still alive and living on the fly in mid-March.

"It feels good. You just want to keep it going -- keep it going into that first practice in L.A., keep it going into that next game," Williams said. "You're tired this time of the year; everybody is. Then, you go to the ACC tournament, you play, you watch the [NCAA] brackets come up, and something kicks in. It's like a new energy. It gets you moving again."

Maryland is poised to move into new territory. The only thing standing between the third-seeded Terps (23-10) and their first trip to the Elite Eight under Williams -- and Maryland's first since Lefty Driesell led the Terps there in 1975 -- are the 10th-seeded Hoyas (25-7), who are making the most of their first NCAA tournament ride in four years.

The Terps and Hoyas each had to survive close calls in their first-round games. The four games here on the first day were decided by a combined seven points, a tournament record. Then, Maryland and Georgetown broke out of Boise with respective routs over Idaho's Cinderella stories, Georgia State and Hampton.

The collision in Anaheim should be a good one. Both teams are loaded with size and depth. Both teams can rebound, especially Georgetown, which was ranked first among the tournament's 65 teams at the start of the tournament, then manhandled Arkansas and Hampton on the boards by a combined 98-62.

"In terms of size, we match up with [Maryland] very well. We play with two big kids [7-foot center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and 6-8 forward Mike Sweetney] and so do they," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said. "I don't [think] either one of us will have a size advantage. Maryland has great depth, and I think we have great depth, also. I think it's going to be a very good game."

The contest also presents a matchup of two great backcourt players in Maryland shooting guard Juan Dixon and Georgetown point guard Kevin Braswell, who are buddies dating to their Baltimore middle school days. Dixon actually lived with Braswell's family for about a year in the early 1990s, before Dixon lost both of his parents to drug-related bouts with AIDS while he was at Calvert Hall.

"When we were warming up [before Saturday's second-round game against Hampton], he came up and said we've got to get this one, because we've been wanting to play against each other for the longest time," Braswell said of Dixon. "I know it's going to be a fun game."

The Terps did not exactly have a blast navigating their way through Boise.

They narrowly escaped disaster while edging 14th-seeded George Mason with barely any contribution from their frontcourt. Saturday, they blew a nine-point, first-half lead, trailed briefly early in the second half, then took out 11th-seeded Georgia State, 79-60, by dominating the post, leaning on their depth and making clutch free throws.

Maryland shot a combined 31-for-36 from the foul line in the second half in the two victories. The Terps also got opportune performances from their bench, as has been the case all season. In Saturday's victory, forward Danny Miller continued his excellent March by lifting Maryland with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

"The interesting thing about this year's team has been finding the guy off the bench who is hot that night. Danny was incredible," Williams said. "We're going to need the bench again. Georgetown has so many good rebounders, and they play tough defense. Nobody gets to the Sweet 16 without playing tough defense."

Maryland, which has won eight of its past nine, was tough enough in a tight game in the first round. Thursday marked the first time this year that the Terps have won a game decided by five points or fewer, after falling five previous times in that scenario. And one could sense the urgency on the court Saturday, judging by the way Maryland players were scolding each other after someone committed a mental error.

"You want them to do that, let each other know the urgency of the situation," Williams said. "They're mature. They know there are no guarantees this time of year. This time is one of those things they'll be thinking about when they're 35 years old, with kids. If you don't show up for one game, it's over."

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