UM can't stop Butler, but zone finally helps slow assault

32-point effort almost puts Huskies over top

Ncaa Tournament

March 25, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Maryland went to a zone.

Caron Butler found himself in one, too.

Connecticut's sophomore forward taxed the Terps' defensive strategies as Maryland resorted to running three players at him at once down the stretch of the East Regional final.

The sophomore forward crammed 17 of his 32 points into the first 10 minutes of the second half before Maryland made enough big stops to earn its second straight Final Four berth.

"Juan Dixon was magnificent. He hit some terrific shots," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "[Lonny] Baxter was a load. He's an incredibly efficient offensive player. But the best player on the floor is sitting here next to me.

"Caron took the game over in the second half. He was the best player on the floor. If Dixon and Baxter are on the floor, then he has to be special. He was not only scoring, but passing, rebounding and even outmuscling their guys."

Butler and freshman center Emeka Okafor spent the last four minutes of the first half on the bench after each drew his second personal foul, one reason Maryland was able to finish the half with an eight-point run.

Another was the deployment of a 3-2 zone that Terps coach Gary Williams had used sparingly before his team's semifinal win over Kentucky.

The zone complemented an offensive show that saw Maryland become the first Connecticut opponent to make 50 percent of its field-goal attempts.

The 3-2 is a defense Williams employed frequently when Terence Morris was young, some last season but less this year, as Byron Mouton's ability to mark the other team's top wing has made Maryland more effective playing man-to-man in the half court than ever.

Why did Williams go zone yesterday? Connecticut's quickness to the offensive board was a factor, but more important was the second foul that point guard Steve Blake drew in the ninth minute and the dribbling penetration of guards Tony Robertson, Taliek Brown and Ben Gordon, who combined for 24 points in the first half.

Maryland went to the zone with 7:23 left in the first half. Butler forced them out of it with a fine display of shooting in the first seven minutes of the second half.

By then, the Terps had gone back to playing man, but they reverted to the zone for the last four minutes because Mouton could not slow the co-Player of the Year in the Big East Conference, who is likely headed to the NBA.

Less than 48 hours after he had done yeoman work against Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince, Mouton was exhausted, and Drew Nicholas checked Butler after his scoring had gotten Connecticut within 53-51 with 14:22 left.

On the Huskies' next possession, Butler made his third three of the half, giving his team a 54-53 lead with 13:10 left, but he had just two baskets the rest of the way.

"He's very big and strong, especially given my size," said the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Nicholas, who gave up 4 inches and 45 pounds to Butler. "I just tried to stay in front of him as much as possible."

After his go-ahead three, Butler made 11 of 12 free throws in the next seven minutes, as Maryland could not keep him away from the basket. The Huskies frequently beat the Terps down the floor in transition, but when crunch time turned into a half-court game, Maryland prospered offensively and ran extra bodies at Butler whenever he touched the ball.

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