By Georges, Terps must pass No. 1 test

March 24, 2001|By Mike Preston

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Goodbye, George. Hello, Stanford.

Two weeks into the tournament, NCAA officials have finally run out of Georges for the University of Maryland. There were games against George Mason, Georgia State, Georgetown, George Jetson, George Jefferson, George of the Jungle ...

And now, Stanford today in the Elite Eight, or the West Regional championship, at Arrowhead Pond.

Finally, Maryland (24-10) gets the chance to play a real college basketball team. Finally, Maryland gets to play a legitimate contender in Stanford (31-2), the region's No. 1 seed and a team that hasn't been ranked lower than No. 2 nationally since Christmas.

After fulfilling its goal of advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in 12 years under coach Gary Williams, this tournament has taken an interesting twist for the Terps, the West's No. 3 seed.

They are now the underdogs against a top dog. They are being hunted instead of being the hunters. If Maryland wins, the program has really arrived.

If the Terps lose, they stay just a step above the Georges.

"This is the type of game where [we] got to go out and play," said Maryland guard/forward Byron Mouton. "There is no pressure on us; all the pressure is on Stanford. This is the game to go to the Final Four. You either win, or your season is over. This is bigger than any Duke game.

"This is the game everyone has been looking for. People have always said, `That Maryland is a good tournament team, they have good tradition,' whatever, ` ... but will Maryland ever be in the Final Four? They got a lot of talent, but never been to a Final Four, never accomplished anything.' This is a great chance for us to do it against a quality team."

Quality?

Stanford should beat Maryland.

Overall, the Cardinal is more of a complete package than the Terps, who have not beaten a higher seed in the NCAA tournament since 1994, when Maryland upset No. 2 Massachusetts, 95-87, in Joe Smith's freshman year.

Maryland hasn't faced a team of this caliber since it played Duke in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, it opened against George Mason, whose best player, George Evans, scored 27 points against Maryland, but is only 35 years away from retirement age.

NCAA officials tried to play up the Maryland-Georgia State game as an emotional one because of Lefty Driesell, but let's not fool ourselves. The Panthers were midgets who played in a midget conference, and the Terps were midget killers. Shoot, Lefty was the tallest member of the team.

Georgetown was expected to present more of a challenge, but the Hoyas had no offense. They only score on follow-up rebounds or layups. Next season, they may become the first team ever to be shut out. A bricklayers' union can't be too far behind.

That brings us to Stanford.

The Cardinal shot .514 from the field this season, No. 1 in the nation, including a season high of .628 against Cincinnati on Thursday in the regional semifinals. Stanford beat opponents by an average of 18.7 points, second best in the nation, and the Cardinal was 11-0 on the road this season, 8-0 on neutral courts.

The Cardinal has as much depth as Maryland, with nine of the team's 13 players averaging at least 12 minutes a game, and Stanford has a tradition, with coach Mike Montgomery's 319-145 record during his 15 years at the school.

And the Cardinal plays defense, too.

Only seven opponents have shot 50 percent or better from the field.

"They have such energy and execution," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "If you don't match that, they're just going to wear you down."

That's where Maryland will run into trouble. No team in the ACC has the balance of Stanford. Like Duke, the Cardinal has great outside shooters, with guards Casey Jacobsen, Michael McDonald and forward Ryan Mendez, but it also has the inside strength of North Carolina, with twin brothers Jarron Collins at forward and Jason at center.

Which way do you lose?

Collapse inside, and both Collinses are excellent passers who can dish it back outside off double teams. Give them too much room in the paint, and Stanford can go inside with power. Stanford has taken 880 free throws this season, compared with 540 for the opposition.

But here are the intangibles that will probably give Stanford the win:

The Cardinal has three seniors in its starting lineup, compared with one for Maryland, and it remembers losing in the Final Four to Kentucky, 86-85, in overtime during the 1997-98 season. Motivation is a key.

Stanford is the better coached and more disciplined team. If this game is going to be decided in the last minute, Stanford should win. The Cardinal have only 423 turnovers this season, while Maryland has 485.

Maryland hasn't really played well in this tournament. The Terps should be commended for making it to the Elite Eight, but they haven't been close to the form they showed heading down the stretch of the ACC regular season.

"I don't think emotion will be a problem," Terps center Lonny Baxter said. "This is for the Final Four or the end of our season. I think if we play our game, we'll be all right."

Right now, no one knows exactly what Maryland's game is. There have been times where their star players have disappeared. They've all taken turns. Juan Dixon, Baxter, Steve Blake.

Terence Morris, come on down.

That can happen against some of the Georges, but the Terps will need a peak performance against Stanford.

They are finally playing a legitimate contender. It's Stanford, big and disciplined. Welcome back to the big-time world of college basketball, Maryland.

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