Annoyed Blake on mission to open eyes

UM opponents pay price for ACC voters' slighting

East Regional notebook

NCAA Tournament

March 17, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht and Christian Ewell | Gary Lambrecht and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Yes, the Atlantic Coast Conference voters who snubbed Steve Blake have ticked off the Maryland junior.

And, yes, there is something in the way Blake is playing lately that suggests he is sending a message to those who ignored him.

Blake already is the career assists leader at Maryland. He is ranked 10th in ACC history with 722 and could catch Phil Ford and take over eighth place by the time the Terps are done in the NCAA tournament.

And he recently completed his best regular season by quarterbacking the Terps' offense in a 15-1 ACC year that brought a regular-season crown to College Park for the first time since 1980.

"I'm just playing ball, and I think I'm playing pretty well right now," said Blake, who only managed All-ACC third-team honors. "If the team is playing well, my stats might go up. I think I've stepped up."

Has he ever. After posting 11 points and 11 assists in Friday's tournament-opening, 85-70 victory over Siena, Blake has recorded three double doubles in his past four games. Over that span, he is averaging 14.3 points and 9.8 assists -- and just 3.8 turnovers.

"Anybody that doubts me, I just want to show everyone that I can play," he said.

Close shave, big night

The Terps' Juan Dixon is sporting a different look these days. Earlier last week, he decided to shave his head. Then, in Friday night's NCAA opener, he matched his season high with 29 points.

Must be the hair, or lack thereof, eh?

"It's a new start," said Dixon, who around midseason had vowed he would not cut his hair until the season ended. "It's my last time going through this, and I want to go out on top. This is like my trademark. New start, new attitude."

Another champ for State

After today's game against Connecticut, North Carolina State will have played the past three national champions in reverse order.

A week ago, the Wolfpack was routed by 2001 champion Duke in the ACC tournament final. On Friday, it rallied in the second half to take out 2000 winner Michigan State in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

Now, the No. 2 seed Huskies -- champs in 1999 -- stand in the way of N.C. State's first Sweet 16 appearance since 1989.

"It's been an amazing schedule stretch for us," said N.C. State head coach Herb Sendek. "It's not just great teams in those instances, but outstanding, well- established programs."

For the fourth straight game, the Wolfpack would seem to be at a disadvantage inside. Of Connecticut's Johnnie Selvie and Emeka Okafor, N.C. State forward Julius Hodge said, `Their big guys will have to guard some of our guys who can go inside and out."

N.C. State would like to think that things could work out the way they did against Maryland on March 9, when frontcourt player Marcus Melvin had 19 points in an 86-82 victory.

Okafor fills the gap

The biggest concern Connecticut poses for most teams is the shot-blocking presence of center Okafor.

The freshman from Houston had five blocked shots, along with 15 points and 12 rebounds, in the Huskies' 78-68 win over Hampton on Friday.

He's an invaluable resource for a young team that is going to make its share of defensive mistakes because of inexperience.

"He's always in there," sophomore point guard Taliek Brown said. "He give us more of an opportunity to gamble, to do things we couldn't do without a sound center."

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