UM gets serious, 87-57

Terps slice Wisconsin as Dixon hits 29 again to stroll into Sweet 16

Determination inspires rout

Senior surpasses Bias

`we feel like we are unbeatable right now'

Ncaa Tournament

March 18, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Maryland Terrapins had too much at stake and too many weapons for this confrontation to play out any other way.

Start with senior guard Juan Dixon, who gave the home crowd everything it wanted yesterday at MCI Center by scoring a game-high 29 points and setting a school career scoring record. Move on to sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, whose power moves and dunks energized the fans and his teammates. Throw in the Terps' withering defensive pressure, inside brawn and the desire to play the game at their speed.

Wisconsin might have thought and hoped it had a chance for a while, but five minutes into the second half of yesterday's 87-57 East Regional rout of the eighth-seeded Badgers, the top-seeded Terps already had removed all doubt about which team was moving on from the NCAA tournament's second round.

The Terps, looking more businesslike and determined than they have in more than a week, brought their Final Four faces to the court yesterday, not to mention a superior collection of experienced talent.

And after taking control of the game in the closing minutes of the first half, then knocking out the Badgers with a 17-3 run to open the second half, Maryland is two victories away from making its second consecutive trip to college basketball's biggest stage.

Maryland (28-4), which is going to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the past nine years under coach Gary Williams, will face fourth-seeded Kentucky on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. The Terps tuned up for their trip north by recording the most lopsided victory in the school's NCAA tournament history.

"I think we feel like we are unbeatable right now," said Dixon, who needed seven points to pass the late Len Bias as Maryland's all-time leading scorer and matched his 29-point effort in Maryland's opening-round victory over Siena. "With confidence like that, we can go a long way and right now we feel like we are unstoppable."

"The thing about our team, from Juan Dixon on, is that everybody is about winning," Williams said. "We are going to win the game any way we can, and that was our attitude coming into today's game. We have stayed with that all year. When we rely on that will to win, we are a really good basketball team."

Maryland, which won for the 15th time in its past 16 games, looked nothing like the team that stagnated in last weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Terps clearly felt the urgency of the moment, with so many fans roaring in their favor, and devoured the Badgers (19-13) with too much defense, too many athletes, too much speed and too much Dixon.

This contest pretty much came down to about 15 minutes of Maryland's overwhelming self-assertion.

During an up-and-down opening sequence in the first half, Maryland probed the Badgers with their full-court press with some success, and shot the ball decently, but looked a bit anxious in a tight battle that the Badgers led 23-19 with 6:39 left in the half. Only the post play and two nasty dunks by Wilcox seemed to keep Maryland loose.

Then, the rest of the team warmed up, Maryland's depth and quickness began to take over, and Wisconsin had no chance.

Senior center Lonny Baxter and Wilcox started a 19-7 half-ending run with layups. Then, while the Badgers went cold from the field, Maryland flashed its guard play. Backup Drew Nicholas, point guard Steve Blake and Dixon hit consecutive three-point baskets, giving the Terps a 32-25 advantage with 4:48 left.

Wisconsin guard Devin Harris answered with a three, leaving the Terps with a 32-28 lead. Maryland scored six of the final eight points to leave the floor with a 38-30 halftime lead, but the Terps were just getting warmed up. The Badgers opened the second half by missing their first three shots and committing two turnovers, and the Terps swooped in for the kill with a 17-3 run that gave Maryland a 55-33 lead with 13:39 to go.

Dixon accounted for 13 points during that telling stretch, when the Badgers appeared to roll over and Maryland began thinking about going to Syracuse.

"Whenever you smell blood, it just comes in bunches. Once you get one turnover, two turnovers, the scoring becomes a little easier," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "It's just an emotional thing that takes its toll. It was very difficult for us to get re-energized after their one big explosion."

"It was only a matter of time before we made our run. It came late, but then we turned the game around," said Baxter, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. "Once we made our run [early in the second half], there were some sad looks on their faces, and we just continued to pound away at them."

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