Dixon, Blake step to forefront

Terps' starting backcourt doesn't take back seat to celebrated Illinois tandem

November 28, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maui on their minds, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake steered Maryland past Illinois last night.

A year and a week ago, Illinois hammered Maryland in the Maui Invitational, as Dixon and Blake were outplayed by their backcourt counterparts, Cory Bradford and Frank Williams. The Terps were dominated on the boards that night, but their two guards shouldered some of the blame for the 10-point loss, as they shot a combined 6-for-21 from the field while Williams and Bradford teamed for 35 points.

Revenge was served up steaming at Cole Field House, where Dixon scored 25 points and Blake posted a game-high nine assists and four blocked shots, double his career high.

Blake threw a roadblock at Williams, as last season's Big Ten Player of the Year suffered through one of the worst shooting nights of his career. He was 3-for-16 and Bradford was nearly as bad at 4-for-14, as one of the nation's most acclaimed backcourts was a combined 7-for-30 from the field.

"Last year was definitely incentive," Blake said. "Those guys are listed in all the preseason magazines as being among the top shooting guards and the top point guards in the nation. We weren't going to over-exaggerate that, we just wanted to play our game. I was just trying to play defense like I'm used to."

Blake, who has a history of getting up for opponents named Williams - see Duke's Jason - gave up more than 40 pounds, but it was Illinois' Williams who wore down. He made just one basket in the second half.

"I'm lighter than most of the guys I play," Blake said. "If he hits me a couple of times it wouldn't be good, but I'll hold up. I wanted to keep Williams in front of me, because he draws a lot of fouls and gets to the line. When he got by me, I had a lot of help."

Maryland coach Gary Williams disagreed, saying the effort that led to the Fighting Illini shooting just 36.7 percent from the field started with his guards. Unable to penetrate, Bradford and Frank Williams made just one of their 10 three-point attempts.

"Tonight we did not want to give open looks to their guards out of traps, so we stayed away from traps," Gary Williams said. "We depended on our ability to play head-up, man-to-man defense."

Blake is a junior on pace to become the Terps' all-time leader in assists. Dixon is a senior destined to establish school records for scoring, steals and three-pointers.

With Blake's help, the shooting guard out of Calvert Hall put the game away in the opening minutes of the second half. Dixon came out of the break with a three-pointer, and Blake followed with another.

Dixon, a two-time first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference choice, converted a steal and then scored out of the half-court offense to stretch a 12-point halftime lead to 20.

"That was fun," said Dixon, who wasn't satisfied with his 9-for-19 shooting, 2-for-8 from beyond the arc. "I don't think I shot particularly well. I missed a lot of threes, but our big guys rebounded and our guards knocked down shots when they had to."

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