Xavier cuts short Terps' celebration

Abuzz over last shot, Nicholas and Co. turn focus to tough No. 3 seed

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Drew Nicholas barely had time to digest what he had done, since the Maryland Terrapins were busily preparing for another formidable opponent determined to end their run as defending NCAA champions.

Shortly after lifting the sixth-seeded Terps past No. 11 seed UNC-Wilmington with a dramatic running three-point shot as time expired in the South Regional's final first-round game on Friday, Nicholas had watched a replay of his heroics. He had called his older brother, Chris. He had talked with Juan Dixon, his former teammate who made a few clutch shots as Maryland's only Final Four MVP.

Yesterday, while Maryland was gearing up for today's second-round clash with No. 3 seed Xavier, Nicholas was trying to put aside his shining moment. Not much time for basking in glory. Not with the 26-5 Musketeers, led by senior forward David West, waiting to knock off the Terps.

"I remember making the shot. I remember celebrating. But I've found myself thinking did I really do that? I'll probably think about it more as time goes by," Nicholas said.

His shot is being included in NCAA tournament folklore, such as the buzzer-beating jumper by Duke's Christian Laettner, who beat Kentucky in a classic East Regional final in overtime in 1992. Or the last-second, full-court drive and layup by UCLA guard Tyus Edney against Missouri in the second round of the 1995 tournament, eventually won by the Bruins.

"I can't even picture myself in those categories. Those shots are at such a high level. Mine still feels like a dream," said Nicholas, who weaved to his right for some 60 feet after taking the inbounds pass, then let fly a one-hander in front of the Maryland bench.

"As a team, we know we're not going to give up without a fight. We'd like to put together a good enough 38 minutes so it doesn't have to come down to that [today]. But [point guard] Steve [Blake] and I know we're going to be the ones with the ball in our hands, trying to make plays."

And the Terps will need their senior backcourt to show up big today, if they intend to advance to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time during their run of 10 straight NCAA tournaments.

For starters, they most likely can't afford to have Blake riding the bench in foul trouble, as he did on Friday - although Blake did come back with his own flair for the dramatic by making a three-pointer that gave the Terps a temporary 72-71 lead with 20 seconds left.

The frontcourt has been an up-and-down experience for much of Maryland's season. That could be decisive against Xavier, which boasts the possible National Player of the Year in the 6-9 West, a sturdy center in 6-9 junior Anthony Myles and a 6-5 swingman in junior Romain Sato, who hits the offensive glass much like Wake Forest's Josh Howard.

The defensive work that freshman Nik Caner-Medley, Nicholas and senior Calvin McCall do on Sato (18.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) could go a long way toward determining whether the Terps move on.

At least Maryland senior center Ryan Randle broke out of his recent slump. His 15-point, 16-rebound performance against UNC-Wilmington erased the struggles of recent weeks. But senior forward Tahj Holden and backup post men Jamar Smith and Travis Garrison will have to step up their games considerably.

Will Maryland (20-9) try to limit West by mixing in some healthy doses of double-teams or zone defense, which worked so well after the Terps got in early foul trouble on Friday?

"We don't necessarily have to double-team [West]. We have to get between him and the basket and keep him on the perimeter as much as possible," said Holden, who had just seven points, three rebounds and five turnovers in 37 minutes on Friday. "We have to contain him and limit his touches. Obviously, he's no slouch."

"You have to be careful about double-teaming him, because Xavier has outside shooters who can make three-pointers," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, referring to Musketeers guards such as Lionel Chalmers and Dedrick Finn, who combine to average 19.7 points per game.

"David West is a smart player. He doesn't force much. Out of the post, he is a great passer. He has that quickness to the ball, and he is a great shooter. He has proven over time how good he is."

Williams is banking on his backcourt, his senior experience, and the chance to carry the emotion over from Friday's night's victory into the Gaylord Entertainment Center today. He also likes the quick turnaround of playing after one day off. Before the NCAA tournament, Maryland had played only three games since Feb. 25.

Xavier is betting on a fight.

"Any time you go against a team that has five seniors, a team that has been to the Final Four and won a national championship, we know we will have to play our best basketball to have a chance," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "We're playing the defending national champions, and until somebody beats them, that's the title they will hold."

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