Maryland Vs. Connecticut

March 24, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht

The game

What: NCAA tournament East Regional final

Site: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Time: 5 p.m. today

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

Line: Maryland by 8 1/2

The teams

Maryland: 29-4; Atlantic Coast Conference champions (15-1); 19th NCAA tournament appearance.

Connecticut: 27-6; Big East Conference champions (13-3), 23rd NCAA tournament appearance.

The frontcourts

Maryland's Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Byron Mouton have combined to average 38.5 points and 20.4 rebounds, and they present an ideal combination of bulk, leaping ability and blue-collar work ethic on the boards. Connecticut center Emeka Okafor alters games with his shot-blocking skill. Forward Johnnie Selvie rarely takes over a game. Butler is a terrific athlete and a much-improved shooter.

Edge: Maryland.

The backcourts

Maryland point guard Steve Blake and shooting guard Juan Dixon might be the best backcourt left in the tournament. Blake is coming off one of his worst games of the year, which means he is primed to rebound with a strong effort today. Dixon is a first-team All-American who has scored 77 points in the NCAAs. His defense on Huskies guard Tony Robertson, a 44.1 three-point shooter, will be important. Point guard Taliek Brown has improved, but still is prone to turnovers.

Edge: Maryland.

Benches

Let's just say the Huskies need their starting five to dictate the action early and often. Other than backup point guard Ben Gordon, who is averaging 12.7 points, 3.1 assists and 24.8 minutes, Connecticut does not go much deeper. Maryland has gotten steady production from its three-man relief corps. Guard Drew Nicholas continues to hit big shots. Forward Tahj Holden and center Ryan Randle complete a four-man rotation down low that is second to none.

Edge: Maryland.

Coaches

Nobody is asking Maryland coach Gary Williams about the joy of getting past the Sweet 16, since he has done it two years in a row after missing for so long. Williams, with 478 career victories, has built his best team by honing an eight-man rotation and an unselfish mentality. Connecticut's Jim Calhoun has won 626 games, has won the Big East regular-season and tournament titles together in five different seasons, has been to four Elite Eights and has a national championship ring.

Edge: Connecticut.

Keys for Maryland

The Terps need to use their trademark and work the ball inside to get their stronger frontcourt involved and to get players like Okafor in foul trouble. Mouton, who has turned into a defensive stopper of late, needs to produce another gem against Caron Butler. Maryland needs the same type of defensive effort it gave against Kentucky. Keys for Connecticut

The Huskies need to run early and often. They will play into Maryland's hands if they settle for a grinding, half-court affair. The Huskies also need to rebound with the passion they typically exhibit for such dirty work. And someone else besides Butler needs to step up with a big offensive performance. It could be Gordon.

Bottom line

Maryland has too much experience, too many scoring options and has a special sense of urgency as it gears toward a return to the Final Four. The Huskies have gone impressively far for a young team, but this is far enough. The Terps will be cutting down more nets early this evening.

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