Blake answers call for ball with a shot from long distance

Guard's 3, his lone basket, cuts off UConn's hopes

East Regional notebook

Ncaa Tournament

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

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Two huge East Regional games, two nights in which Maryland players who were suffering through subpar games asked for the ball.

On Friday, it was Lonny Baxter going against character and demanding the ball at halftime against Kentucky. Held to two points in the first half, Baxter got 14 in the second. Against Connecticut, it was Steve Blake who piped up, asking for the ball and producing an improbable three-pointer that sealed the Terps' 90-82 victory in the regional final of the NCAA basketball tournament.

With 25.4 seconds left and the shot clock about to expire, Blake nailed a three that extended the Terps' lead to 86-80. It was his only field goal of the game. Plagued by early foul trouble, Blake didn't attempt a shot in the first 33 minutes, but he pleaded for the ball during a tense timeout with 34 seconds remaining.

Juan Dixon and Baxter are go-to guys, but Connecticut was clamping down on the center in the second half and the Huskies were sure to pay close attention to the All-America guard, whom three minutes earlier had triggered a classic display of clutch offense with a three-pointer of his own. Blake interrupted coach Gary Williams as he diagrammed a play for Dixon.

"At the timeout, we were trying to get Juan a look," Williams said, "but Steve said, `They're going to play those guys and I think I can get a shot.' I said, `Go ahead and take it.' I didn't think he was going to take it from that far out, but Blake's done that a lot for us, making big shots."

Blake, who did not commit a turnover and had six assists to build his school career record to 737, acknowledged the weight of the moment.

"That was probably my biggest shot to seal a game," the junior point guard said. "It came at a point where it put a dagger in them. I like to take those kinds of shots."

Holden hits again

In addition to the late threes by Blake and Dixon, one other Maryland three-pointer deflated Connecticut. With two seconds left in the first half, junior forward Tahj Holden hit a jumper from the top of the key that gave the Terps a 44-37 lead. The shot evoked last year's West Regional final, when Holden's three in front of the Stanford bench gave Maryland a 10-point lead at the break.

The three was only Holden's second in the Terps' past eight games. He finished with eight points, his most since January. Holden's second best point total of the season came against Connecticut in the championship game of the BB&T Classic, when he had 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

"He hurt us at the MCI Center too," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who said the longer halftime dictated by CBS figured in the Huskies' comeback. "Halftime was 20 minutes instead of 15, and that gave us extra time to make the point that the game had been tied with three minutes left in the half, that we were right there before that."

Half full on Huskies

Connecticut is one of the toughest defensive teams in the nation. Entering the East Regional final, opponents had made just 37.7 percent of their field-goal attempts, and none of the Huskies foes had mustered a break-even game. The Terps made 55.6 percent of their shots in the first half and the closing flourish of eight productive possessions to end the game left Maryland at 50.9 percent.

"Their offense was as devastating as their defense," Calhoun said. "We got beat by a tremendous basketball team."

Et cetera

Dixon has scored in double figures in 52 straight games. ... Maryland improved to 30-18 all time in the NCAA tournament. ... Baxter's 15 free throws and 18 attempts were the most by a Terp in NCAA history. ... The regional Most Valuable Player, Baxter was joined on the East all-tournament team by Dixon, Connecticut's Caron Butler and Tony Robertson and Southern Illinois' Rolan Roberts.

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

The road back

Maryland is the only member of last year's Final Four to make a return trip. Since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the Terps are the eighth team to make back-to-back trips.

Team ................ Year ......................... Result

Duke ............... 1988 ........................ Lost semifinal

.......................... 1989 ........................ Lost semifinal

.......................... 1990 ........................ Lost title game

.......................... 1991 ......................... Won title

.......................... 1992 ......................... Won title

UNLV ................ 1990 ......................... Won title

........................... 1991 ........................ Lost semifinal

Michigan ............1992 ......................... Lost title game

.......................... 1993 ......................... Lost title game

Arkansas ......... 1994 ......................... Won title

.......................... 1995 ......................... Lost title game

Kentucky ........... 1996 ......................... Won title

........................... 1997 ......................... Lost title game

............................ 1998 ........................ Won title

N. Carolina ........ 1997 ......................... Lost semifinal

............................ 1998 ........................ Lost semifinal

Mich. State ......... 1999 ........................ Lost semifinal

............................ 2000 ......................... Won title

........................... 2001........................... Lost semifinal

Maryland ............ 2001 ......................... Lost semifinal

............................ 2002 ......................... vs. Kansas

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