Maryland leaps into final eight

10-point Georgetown defeat raises hopes

Terps in Elite company

Maryland 76 NCAA TOURNAMENT Georgetown 66

March 23, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - With six seconds left in this historic, emotional game, University of Maryland center Lonny Baxter paid the proper tribute to Terrapins coach Gary Williams as the celebration began on the team's bench.

Baxter, the star of the night with 26 points and 14 rebounds, exchanged a hearty chest bump with Williams, who beamed as Maryland put the finishing touches on a 76-66 victory over Georgetown in the NCAA West Regional semifinals, thus burying unpleasant criticism Williams has heard for years.

For the first time since coach Lefty Driesell led Maryland there in 1975, Maryland is headed for the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight. The Terps will play the winner of last night's Stanford-Cincinnati game in the West Regional championship game tomorrow. With one more victory, Maryland would make the first trip to the Final Four in school history.

It was a special night for Williams, who had failed on four occasions to get the Terps past the Sweet 16.

The Terps' faithful, numbering several hundred, rose and cheered wildly as the closing seconds wound down. The fans have traveled the same emotional, up-and-down ride that Williams and the Terps have lived through, beginning with their stumble at the season-opening Maui Invitational after a preseason ranking of No.5.

The fans watched nervously as a tight game became Maryland's last night at Arrowhead Pond, the scene of one of Maryland's four Sweet 16 missteps under Williams. In 1998, Arizona eliminated the Terps in a regional semifinal.

John Benish, 64, a certified public accountant who lives in Solomons and has been a Terrapin Club member for 25 years, went through the dark times.

He remembers when Williams was rebuilding a program devastated by the death of Len Bias in 1986, then damaged further by NCAA sanctions that hurt recruiting and kept the team off television and out of postseason play.

"He's always been a good coach. He doesn't get all of the Parade All-Americans, but he's always competitive. This team is tough mentally, and they also look like they are having a lot of fun. They don't have a history yet. They've got to start their history. And they're starting history if they get to the Final Four."

Rick Furlough, 55, owns an area software company. The rabid Terps fan passed on a chance to watch the Terps play in the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in Boise. Idaho.

I felt in my heart that we had a chance to go to the Elite Eight, and I wanted to see it happen right here. Who knows what will happen from there?

Furlough might have to go to Minneapolis, home of the Final Four, to see it in person.

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