Baxter gives Terrapins inside track to title run

Ncaa Tournament

March 25, 2001|By Mike Preston

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The University of Maryland didn't back its way into the NCAA Final Four last night. This was by far the Terps' best offensive show of the season, and center Lonny Baxter was the star.

Behind Baxter's elbows, shoulders, deceiving foot speed and arm-ripping rebounds, Maryland bruised Stanford's inside game for an 87-73 victory in the West Regional final and advanced into the Final Four for the first time in school history. But this wasn't one of those play-just-well-enough-to-win victories that Maryland had achieved over George Mason and Georgetown in two of three previous tournament games.

The Terps tore apart one of college basketball's best teams and shocked a lot of people (and sportswriters, especially me) who thought Stanford was a superior team in every way except for athletic ability. But Maryland shot 58.2 percent for the game and 69.2 percent from the three-point line.

That's smoking.

The hot player was Baxter, a 6-foot-8 center who really is a power forward, but chewed up every player Stanford threw at him last night. Stanford forward Jarron Collins was toast. Forward Teyo Johnson couldn't handle the muscle. Center Jason Collins couldn't handle the quickness.

Poof.

Jason Collins disappeared for 11 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

Baxter's final numbers: 29 minutes played, 11-for-18 shooting for 24 points, six ripping-down-the-rack rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and a hell of a lot of intimidation.

"We saw a lot of him on film," Stanford guard Michael McDonald said of Baxter, who was named the West Regional's Most Outstanding Player. "Then, we saw him score a lot of points against Georgetown. He's not 6-10, but he is 6-8 and weighs 268 pounds. I didn't think he dominated inside until, after the game, I realized he had scored 24 points. Wow."

Said Baxter, a junior from Silver Spring: "That's the way [with intensity] you have to play to get to the Final Four. We wanted to get the coach [Gary Williams] there for the first time. But I'm not satisfied. We still want to go on and win the national championship."

The Terps have hitched a ride on Baxter's back the past two games. He scored 26 points against Georgetown on Thursday night in a 76-66 victory, and held the Hoyas' 7-foot center, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje, to no points in 19 minutes. Stanford's inside crew, one of the most powerful and effective in the game, was also ineffective, as Jason Collins had 12 points, but no presence.

Baxter is eating up the middle like a human Pac-Man.

What happened?

Baxter got his wake-up call in the first-round game against George Mason, when 6-7 George Evans torched him for 27 points and Baxter had two. Since then, he has been a new Baxter.

The new L.B.

Remember the old one during the regular season?

At times, he had trouble catching the ball. When he tried to drive from more than 10 feet from the basket, he would either get called for traveling or lose it out of bounds.

He had to use the backboard to take some steam off his shot.

But the new guy has touch. And is taking people to the rack off the dribble. And using his left hand.

Of course, the monstrous dunks never left the arsenal.

"He used to be a player that had to get the ball in the right spot, but now he has great touch," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "Jason is a big man, and it's hard to work through him. But frankly, we let him [Baxter] catch it too much in the low post. After that, there wasn't much we could do."

Wrong.

Montgomery watched it like everybody else.

Baxter was brutal in the post. Once he caught the ball and turned, he didn't hesitate lowering his shoulder into either of the Collins boys. If the shoulder didn't work, the forearm did.

When Stanford opened the second half with six straight points, it was Baxter who scored on a three-point play to give the Terps a 45-39 lead and get the momentum back in Maryland's favor with 17:32 left in the game.

Baxter scored on a bank shot from inside the lane with 12:34 left, then hit a turnaround 51 seconds later, and then jammed from the baseline with 11:08 remaining to forge a 62-48 Maryland lead.

Baxter's best move came with 6:17 left in the game, when he drove from the right side of the floor, split defenders in the lane, double-pumped and laid it off the glass with his left hand.

Ouch.

"I saw they weren't moving their feet real well in the first half, so I went at them and kept taking the ball to the rim," Baxter said.

Said Cardinal guard Casey Jacobsen: "Their big guys did a great job tonight. We fought them, but they just outplayed us."

Baxter's offense couldn't have come at a better time. Until last night, the Terps had not been that impressive in the tournament, and had not played a legitimate contending team.

But the Terps outshot the best shooting team in the country and out-rebounded a supposedly bigger, stronger Stanford team, 31-26. The Terps played with one of the top dogs in the country and made a big statement about playing on the national basketball scene.

One of the players who helped deliver it was Lonny Baxter.

Familiar foes

The Maryland-Duke national semifinal will be the 10th intra-conference game in the Final Four:

1976: Big Ten: Indiana 86, Michigan 68, championship

1980: Big Ten: Purdue 75, Iowa 58, third place

1981: ACC: North Carolina 78, Virginia 65, semifinal

1985: Big East: Georgetown 77, St. John's 59, semifinal

1985: Big East: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64, championship

1987: Big East: Syracuse 77, Providence 63, semifinal

1988: Big Eight: Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79, championship

1989: Big Ten: Michigan 83, Illinois 81, semifinal

2000: Big Ten: Michigan State 53, Wisconsin 41, semifinal

2001: ACC: Duke vs. Maryland, semifinal

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