Big men Wilcox, Holden rise to challenge up front

Two Terps combine to score 31, neutralize Kansas' inside game

Maryland 97 - Kansas 88

Final Four

March 31, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Faced with perhaps its toughest frontcourt challenge of the season, Maryland dominated down low during a 97-88 victory over Kansas and did so in an unexpected fashion.

Kansas All-America center Drew Gooden was a non-factor for much of the game, not recording a second-half field goal until 7:22 remained in the game.

But Maryland's dynamite performance didn't come from Lonny Baxter - who was the Most Outstanding Performer of the East Regional. Baxter was hampered by foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points.

Instead, it was Chris Wilcox and Tahj Holden who combined for 31 points to go along with Juan Dixon's 33 points and move the Terrapins into tomorrow night's national title game against Indiana.

The pair wanted to avenge what they saw as an affront to their talents from Gooden, who had said that he and Nick Collison were the best frontcourt duo in the nation.

"He's a great player, but I had to take it personally," Wilcox said, "because he said that they were the best in the land. I wanted to let them know that there are at least two others in that race."

This isn't the first time Wilcox has come through against big-name competition. In February, he had 23 points and 11 rebounds against Carlos Boozer in Maryland's convincing 87-73 victory over Duke.

At stake was not only Maryland's quest for a national championship, but also a test for Wilcox's readiness for the NBA. Gooden, like Wilcox, is considered a likely lottery pick for the league's draft this summer.

Wilcox did nothing to calm that suggestion, with 11 points and six rebounds in the first half, en route to an 18-point, nine-rebound night that also included four blocks.

He also had three blocked shots in the first five minutes of the game - all on attempts by Gooden - to set a tone that reverberated from then on. Collison was the only Jayhawk to go inside with any confidence.

"Wilcox kind of set the tone early by blocking so many shots," Collison said. "Tahj Holden came in, played a great game. I give them a lot of credit."

Holden, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds, is used to putting out fires whenever Baxter or Wilcox get into foul trouble. But instead of serving as a mere stopgap, the junior from New Jersey stepped forward, with six of those points in the first half, eliminating the question of what would happen without Baxter.

Later, Holden's tip-in with 8:55 left in the game gave the Terps a 73-59 lead and began an 11-4 run that was all the cushion they would need.

"You don't know how the others are going to step up," teammate Byron Mouton said. "But when Tahj got his first basket ... all we wanted was for him to be aggressive. I've never seen him flying through the air like that."

"At this point, I've seen everything - it's happened before, and I had to go in and play," said Holden, who admitted to a little fatigue because of the up-and-down style of play.

"I gave everything for as long as I could. I was just determined not to let them beat me up the court, not to let them score. Sometimes, those things [fatigue] go away when you're determined."

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