Off bench, Holden right on

Forward `unbelievable' for Terps in victory

NCAA Tournament

March 25, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - One week ago, after his team delivered a couple of performances not befitting a powerhouse, Maryland forward Tahj Holden told his mom, Debbie, that she should stay home in Red Bank, N.J., for the West Regional play here at Arrowhead Pond.

Instead, he told her to ante up for plane tickets to Minneapolis, the site of this year's Final Four. If Debbie Holden hadn't bought them, her son is a big reason why she has to now, as the third-seeded Terps downed No. 1 seed Stanford in the Elite Eight, 87-73.

Of the many reserves that helped Maryland (25-10) wear out Stanford (31-3), Holden stuck out most. When Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris - who combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds - had to sit out because of foul trouble, he helped Maryland coach Gary Williams take his time in bringing them back by hitting open shots, playing solid defense on both of the Collins twins and blocking out.

Holden finished with 14 points and a pair of rebounds.

"Ah, man. He was unbelievable," said Morris, who was replaced by Holden when he had to go to the bench with two fouls at the 16:28 mark in the first half. "He hit the open shots, and he got some key block-outs that a lot of people don't see in the statistics, but he kept Jarron and Jason Collins off the boards, and that really helped us with the win today."

Ah-men. Morris going to the bench early - even with the good omen of a long jumper to start the game - did not portend great things for the Terps. Enter Holden, who knocked down a three-pointer with 14:49 left to get Maryland started on a 10-2 run, the first of many for the team on the afternoon.

His next big shot would come at the end of the half, when Stanford - one of the teams that vied for his services out of high school - left him open on the left wing and he buried a three-pointer with four seconds left to give his team a 10-point lead at the half.

"My role is to come in, give people breaks and bring energy to the team," the sophomore said in a succinct manner that understated the impact of his performance.

Holden finished with three three-pointers, and he was a little surprised to be left open "because most teams scout me as a shooter," owing to his .450 percentage from three-point range for his career. "But, you get open like that in the course of a game, and I was just lucky to knock it down."

When Morris went out toward the beginning of the second half, Holden hit the last of his three-pointers to keep a 14-2 run going. Baxter and Morris left the lineup with about 16 minutes left and - thanks to Holden, who averaged 4.1 points on the season - returned with the lead enlarged from 10 to 15 points.

In addition to the scoring, he also played a part in depleting Stanford's inside strength, as embodied by the Collinses. Holden said the Terps were not intimidated by playing against a team with two 7-footers in its starting lineup.

"We've played against big guys," he said, citing North Carolina's Brendan Haywood and Kris Lang and Georgia Tech's Alvin Jones. "We knew the presence was going to be there, but we just wanted to take it at them and get them in foul trouble."

Maryland assistant coach Billy Hahn was proud of Holden, who he says had a lot of doubters among college coaches that wondered if he was tough enough to play at the highest level of college basketball, despite his skills.

Hahn said he understood the reasons - baby fat, mostly - but those disappeared with time in the weight room.

"Tahj had a bad rap coming out of high school," Hahn said. "I'm glad we thought he was pretty good."

Holden wasn't just tough yesterday, he was smart. With Stanford down 10 points and attempting one last gasp, he had the presence of mind to call a timeout when his team had trouble inbounding the ball with 1:26 left in the game.

Afterward, in the afterglow, a TV reporter asked Holden to show off the shooting form that defined his afternoon. Like a singer reluctant to use his voice any more than he needs to, he demurred, anticipating a bigger stage for his talents in Minneapolis.

"I don't have it anymore," he said. "I'm going to save it."

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