Off his game, Blake still contributing

Terps point guard makes key plays amid struggles


April 01, 2002|By Christian Ewell and Ken Murray | Christian Ewell and Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - While great point guard play often drives teams toward the national title, Maryland hasn't seen the best of its floor general, Steve Blake, over the past three games.

Blake, in his third straight year starting for the Terrapins, recorded nine assists during the second half of his team's 97-88 victory over Kansas in the national semifinals, but he also made only one of seven shots from the field and missed four free throws during the closing minutes.

That followed a so-so effort in the East Regional final against Connecticut, and probably his worst game of the season against Kentucky before that - making only two of nine shots from the field and committing four turnovers.

"I've done what I've had to do to help my team win," the junior said, "but from a personal standpoint, I can't say I've played really well."

Maryland coach Gary Williams has noticed how Blake - who has 104 starts for Maryland in his career - has been somewhat down on himself. In particular, the free-throw glitch at the end of the Kansas game was uncharacteristic because Blake has made 81.9 percent of his shots from the line this season.

"Steve has high standards," Williams said. "He's very tough on himself. Sometimes I think he hurts himself a little bit by being so tough on himself."

Nonetheless, Maryland continues to win - by no fewer than eight points in any of the past three games - and much of it has to do with Blake's plays at key times. His effort against Connecticut was largely redeemed by a game-clinching three-pointer.

Against Kansas, he made a couple of thread-the-needle passes during the second half that helped open the gap for Maryland.

"Everyone's talking about how he's not playing well; I think he's playing great for us," teammate Byron Mouton said. "People criticize him for this game, for that game, but he's been so consistent."

Strength in reserve

The Terps' bench has been regarded as one of the nation's best, if not the best, this season. Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle help fortify the frontcourt in reserve roles, and Drew Nicholas can play the three positions reserved for smaller players.

But Indiana's bench - after a strong effort against Oklahoma in the other semifinal - appears to be formidable as well, led by Jeff Newton and A.J. Moye.

In a nine-point victory to move into the national title game, Newton scored 19 points, Donald Perry scored 10 and the Hoosiers' reserves outscored Oklahoma's, 41-12, opening the eyes of Nicholas.

"Any time you can come off the bench and score 41, that's big, especially in a national semifinal game," Nicholas said. "Our bench is looking at it as another test. We're going to come out and if we can win another battle, it's just another way to help our team win."

Playing it low-key

Indiana's unpredictable trip to the championship game took yet another unconventional twist yesterday when the Hoosiers eschewed a normal practice in favor of a low-key shoot-around.

Coach Mike Davis said the team never practices on Sundays and he didn't see a reason to yesterday.

"We haven't practiced [on Sunday] since I've been here," he said. "I just feel like, especially now, what can you do? We know our basketball team. Coach [John] Treloar and our coaching staff watched tapes to prepare our guys for [tonight's] game. I don't think it makes any difference about practicing today or not."

Sophomore Jared Jeffries also defended the move.

"We've been having two-a-days this whole tournament," Jeffries said. "Don't get it twisted that we haven't been going hard. Before we had our shoot-around on Friday, we had a two-hour practice. Don't think it's a big time off."

Dickerson in demand

Maryland assistant coach Dave Dickerson is getting feelers about his availability for the top jobs at College of Charleston and Radford.

After six seasons at Maryland, Dickerson was promoted to the top assistant's position after Billy Hahn left to take the La Salle job. Dickerson said it's only natural that assistants reap the benefits of a program's success.

"Look at North Carolina and Duke - those guys who were assistant coaches there have gotten jobs, because they win," said Dickerson, who played at Maryland during the late 1980s. "I feel that the time is right. But I have a great job now, and it's getting better."

Double-digit jeopardy

Indiana's 11 losses put the Hoosiers on the spot. Only one team has won the NCAA championship with as many as 11 losses. That was Kansas (27-11) in 1988.

Two other champions had as many as 10 losses - Villanova (25-10) in 1985 and North Carolina State (26-10) in 1983.

Et cetera

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