Triumphant Terps

UM earns first trip to Final Four, year's fourth meeting with Duke

`They looked too good not to win'

Convincing win over top seed puts team two wins from title

Ncaa Tournament

March 25, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The one-word sign has been hanging in the Maryland men's basketball locker room since September.

"Minneapolis."

The Terps took hold of vaunted, top-seeded Stanford yesterday, took over Arrowhead Pond, and punched a ticket to Minnesota by punching out the Cardinal in their home state.

No, this is not a drill. Maryland, a team that seemed unworthy of the NCAA tournament after suffering through a nearly disastrous midseason slump that ended five weeks ago, is headed for the school's first Final Four.

No Maryland team had ever climbed a ladder to cut down the nets in the NCAAs before the third-seeded Terps did it after an 87-73 West Regional final whipping of Stanford, which had won 31 of 33 games before running into the wrong team.

Maryland (25-10) advanced to Saturday's NCAA semifinals, where it will meet Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke (33-4). The Terps are 1-2 against the top-ranked Blue Devils this season, but the two losses came by a combined four points.

The winner will move on to play for the national championship April 2.

The Terps' post-game party actually began with about a minute left in the game, while Maryland was running out the clock.

It started with Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas hugging on the court, during that possession. It continued with coach Gary Williams - who had not earned a Final Four trip in 23 seasons, including the past 12 in College Park - walking down the bench to slap every hand in sight.

As the final horn sounded, Billy Hahn jumped into the arms of fellow assistant coach Dave Dickerson. Senior reserve forward LaRon Cephas put Williams in a bearhug and lifted him off the floor.

Several thousand Maryland fans seated behind the Terps' bench went into delirium. Chants of "ACC! ACC!" and "Gary! Gary!" rolled through the arena. Dixon cradled Williams' head before the two shared an emotional moment.

Kevin Roberts, 29, a Baltimore native who lives in nearby Santa Barbara, absorbed the scene.

"I'm falling asleep the other night, dreaming of whether the Terps would ever cut down the nets, much less whether I'd be here to see it," Roberts said. "They came all the way out here, as far away from home as they could get. It's awesome."

"They looked too good not to win," said Ravin Ohri, 29, of Bethesda, thrilled to have made the cross-country trip to witness history.

Freshman Chris Wilcox was first cutting down the twine. On down the line Maryland went, from reserves like Calvin McCall to stars Dixon and center Lonny Baxter, who made an amazing, two-day splash at the Pond and carted off the West Regional's Most Valuable Player award.

Williams, a 1968 graduate of Maryland who took over an ailing program in 1989 and survived the toughest times, basked in the moment of triumph. He also drew the loudest roar. When he finished using the scissors, he stood on the ladder, wearing his West Regional championship cap, turned to the Maryland faithful and twirled the net, urging on the crowd.

Frank Miller, a retired Carroll County school system administrator who lives in Mount Airy, said he has attended every ACC tournament since 1977 and has been to every one of the Terps' Sweet 16 trips under Williams.

This was the first time in five tries that Williams had taken the Terps to the Final Eight. But that victory over Georgetown on Thursday night was a mere warm-up for a dominant performance by the Terps, who controlled Stanford throughout the second half.

"We stayed at the same hotel as the team, and there was a whole lot of confidence in that place" before the game, Miller said. "You could see it in the players."

Stanford certainly could see it yesterday. The Terps made it look that easy.

NOTE: The Terps are scheduled to arrive at BWI Airport about 5:45 a.m. today at the Signature Air charter service area. The team, which will not use the main terminal, will take a bus to Cole Field House in College Park, where it is expected to arrive about 7 a.m.

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