Stanford: final step to UM first

Confident Terps set for West's top seed, chance at Final Four

`We all know we're good'

But Cardinal brings size, shooting ability

March 24, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - They helped their coach taste some long-awaited vindication. Now, the Maryland Terrapins are poised to knock down another roadblock that has never been negotiated.

Only 40 victorious minutes stand between Maryland and the first Final Four appearance in school history.

By beating top-seeded Stanford (31-2) in today's West Regional championship game at Arrowhead Pond, the Terps (24-10) would set off a party in College Park that would continue in Minneapolis, the site of this year's NCAA postseason finale.

All of the favorable tournament draws and local connections are behind the third-seeded Terps.

They have survived an inspired, 14th-seeded George Mason team, blown out an 11th-seeded Georgia State squad guided by former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell and methodically eliminated rugged, 10th-seeded Georgetown to give Williams his first Elite Eight game in 23 years of crouching and screaming on the sidelines at four different schools.

To take Maryland where it has never gone before, all the Terps must do is take down the Cardinal, a battle-tested group that has spent the entire season ranked in the top five, is just three years removed from a trip to the Final Four and has spent the entire postseason in its home state.

Listen to the Terps and feel a team that is oozing with an attitude falling somewhere between devil-may-care and business-like urgency. They reveled in Thursday's historic victory by dancing with Williams and dousing him with water in the post-game locker room, then showed up yesterday with pre-game faces that suggest they know something special is about to happen again.

"We all know we're good. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves," sophomore forward Tahj Holden said. "For us to win [today], we play our game, do what made us get this far in the first place. Nothing should change. We've been around the block. This is nothing new."

Well, it's only the biggest Maryland game since Driesell brought the Terps to the brink of the Final Four in 1975, before Holden and the rest of his teammates were born.

But March has become a blur of big shots, great defense, clutch plays and changing heroes for the Terps, who have made that 1-3 start and 1-5 midseason stretch look like ancient history.

"It made us stronger as a team. It prepared us for this," junior guard Juan Dixon said. "We're trying to enjoy the moment, but we still have three games left [to win a national championship]."

Maryland is riding a 9-1 streak, with possibly the freshest legs left in the tournament, thanks to a superb bench that produced 28 points in the 76-66 victory over Georgetown. In two of the Terps' tournament victories, senior forward Terence Morris has combined to score eight points, and he missed 10 of 11 shots on Thursday. Maryland never wavered.

Today, a huge obstacle stands in the Terps' path. The Cardinal's answer to Dixon is sharpshooting, 6-foot-6 guard Casey Jacobsen (18.2 ppg), whom Maryland cannot leave open. He has made an incredible 47.1 percent of his three-point attempts.

Junior 7-foot center Jason Collins and senior 6-10 forward Jarron Collins form one of the nation's top low post combinations. Small forward Ryan Mendez (11.2 ppg) shoots 47.3 percent overall and has made 39 percent of his three-point attempts. Point guard Michael McDonald (158 assists, 52 turnovers) is the best feeder in the Pacific-10 Conference.

"We've played against a lot of teams with good big people. The challenge today is we're playing against big people who can shoot from the perimeter. Stanford compares to the size of [North] Carolina, and they can shoot the ball like Duke," said Williams, who is glad he had little time to soak in the moment of the Georgetown victory.

"The good thing about playing again this quickly against a team as good as Stanford is all of your energy is focused on the next game. That's the way it is for the players as well," he said.

The Terps expect an up-tempo game that easily could stretch into the 80s or 90s. They would love to use their 10-man rotation to force the tempo and see how winded the Cardinal might get. They would not be surprised to see a game of wild offensive runs. And they need Morris to get on track.

"I have Terence stepping up to play a big game tomorrow," Dixon said.

If the game boils down to which set of big men can outlast the other, Maryland likes its chances. They are getting great bench play out of backups like Holden, Mike Mardesich and Chris Wilcox, and they are riding the hot hands of center Lonny Baxter, who has 45 points and 28 rebounds in his last two games.

Rest assured, no Stanford player will be questioning Baxter's toughness. Baxter had heard about some disparaging remarks uttered by the Hoyas. He proceeded to answer with his most dominating game of the season on Thursday night.

"Somebody calls you soft, you respond the best way you know how," Baxter said. "It just inspired me to come out and play hard. This feels good, but we still have work to do. That's where our season is right now. There's no time to get relaxed."

Terps today

Opponent: Stanford, in NCAA tournament West Regional final

Seeds, records: No. 3 Maryland 24-10; No. 1 Stanford 31-2

Site: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif.

When: Today, 4:40 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

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