Terps packed for long N.Y. stay

Confident veterans carry momentum to Round 3 vs. Kentucky

March 19, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Their defense is back on its toes, their fast break is humming, their offense is flowing with that familiar, inside-outside punch, and their top player has caught fire at an ideal time.

And as the Maryland Terrapins prepare to travel tomorrow to Syracuse, N.Y., where they will face fourth-seeded Kentucky on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals, the Terps are looking and feeling very much like a No. 1 seed pushing through to the next phase of a yearlong mission.

After whipping eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament's second round on Sunday, 87-57, at nearby MCI Center, Maryland is continuing its pursuit of a return trip to the Final Four and its first national championship with a serious dose of momentum.

The Terps (28-4), having advanced to their sixth Sweet 16 in the past nine years under coach Gary Williams, have been on a roll since November. They would register a school-record 29th victory by eliminating the Wildcats and reaching the Elite Eight. But Sunday's rout represented their most complete effort in nearly three weeks.

There were no defensive lapses this time, unlike Friday night's 85-70 cruise against overmatched Siena in the first round, and unlike Maryland's up-and-down display in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

The Terps swarmed and wore out a slower, thinner Wisconsin team with relentless full-court pressure. They took senior guard and leading scorer Kirk Penney out of the game and put the clamps on Wisconsin's outside game by limiting the Badgers to 35.6 percent shooting, including a 5-for-19 night from three-point range.

The starting frontcourt of Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox had their way, combining for 34 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and five blocked shots. Juan Dixon took care of the rest of the highlights with 29 points.

"Monstrous. Their inside-outside game is phenomenal," said Wisconsin forward Charlie Wills, who had his hands quite full with Wilcox. "They are very explosive and can pour it on very quickly. They are a great team, and I think they can take this all the way."

"They can take two 6-10 guys out and replace them with two more 6-10 or 6-11 guys. They are very impressive and they have a lot of guys that can score points," Wisconsin guard Travon Davis added. "Juan is a phenomenal two guard. He can do it all. As Juan goes, I think these Maryland Terrapins will go."

Dixon could be on his way to leading the Terps back to the Final Four as a regional MVP. He already leads all scorers in the NCAA tournament with 58 points.

Williams was especially thrilled to see the Terps display some urgency with their defense, beginning with the full-court press. It took about 15 minutes to crack the Badgers, who broke enough presses and made enough shots to take a 23-19 first-half lead. Then, the dam broke.

Now the road gets more dangerous, starting with a Kentucky team that has a few scorers and has never met a press it couldn't break. Among Maryland's first orders of business will be trying to contain 6-foot-9 senior forward Tayshaun Prince and 6-5 junior guard Keith Bogans.

Prince is coming off a career-high 41-point effort against Tulsa in the second round. Bogans made 11 of 20 shots and scored 40 points over the Wildcats' first two tournament wins. Look for Wilcox to cover Prince, and forward Byron Mouton to guard Bogans.

The Terps would like to see Mouton erase a scoring slump he fell into at the MCI Center. Over the two games there, Mouton scored only eight points in 54 minutes and made only two of 10 shots. He also committed six turnovers.

On the contrary, Wilcox broke out of his recent slump with a vengeance, slamming home several dunks with vicious punctuation.

"I just told him to go for the rim. You hear so many people giving you all kinds of advice. I just said, `OK, Chris, what makes you really good?' " said Williams, who is hoping Wilcox passes up the NBA draft and returns to College Park for his junior year. "He certainly has the potential to be a great player."

And when the Terps play at the level they displayed against Wisconsin, they certainly look like a squad that is justified in planning to play on the season's final night in Atlanta.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Kentucky (22-9) in NCAA tournament East Regional semifinal

Site: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

When: Friday, 10:03 p.m. (approximately)

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 6

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