Smooth Warrick rough to defend

With McNamara contained, junior carries Orangemen

Ncca Regional Phoenix

March 21, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

DENVER - If Hakim Warrick ever decides to give up basketball, he might want to consider a career as a ballet dancer.

For the better part of 40 minutes last night, Syracuse's 6-foot-8 junior forward was so smooth, so graceful, it felt like his movements were choreographed to go with orchestra music.

Warrick scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Syracuse's 72-70 second-round victory over Maryland, but he just as easily could have been playing the lead in Swan Lake. Maryland's post players stood flat-footed for much of the evening as Warrick soared for rebounds, hung in midair to nail jumpers and glided through the lane to finish off a fast break with a ferocious dunk.

"Hakim was unbelievable for us," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "I really think he's a little underrated considering what he's done for us this year."

Underrated? Not after what he did in front of a national audience yesterday.

Maryland really had no answer for Syracuse's leading scorer, whose long arms and pogo stick-leaping ability made it a frustrating night for Travis Garrison, Jamar Smith and Ekene Ibekwe. Maryland did a nice job of shutting down Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara, who was coming off a 43-point game against Brigham Young. But Warrick picked up the slack, scoring 13 during an ugly first half to give the Orangemen a 32-22 lead going into the locker room.

"I definitely wanted to go out there and attack," Warrick said. "They didn't double-team me and I just tried to score or get fouled. My team did a good job of getting me the ball and I was able to make some plays."

None of it came as a surprise to Boeheim, who said he feels Warrick has played like the best player in the country over the past 15 to 20 games.

As a sophomore, Warrick was a big contributor during the Orangemen's national championship run, including making the game-saving block in the final seconds of the national championship, but Boeheim said it was easy to overlook him with Baltimore's Carmelo Anthony on the team.

"Really, he was a pretty good player a year ago, he just didn't get a lot of touches," Boeheim said.

Warrick, however, was the only player on either team to play all 40 minutes, and down the stretch during Maryland's furious rally, it showed. Warrick made two free throws to put Syracuse up 51-37 with 14:32 left, but the next trip down the floor, during a scramble for a loose ball, Warrick got cracked in the nose with an elbow, and crumpled to the floor in pain.

He didn't leave the game, but from that point on, he was clearly running on fumes.

"I was getting tired," Warrick said. "My legs were weary and it was tough. They say the high altitude is overrated, but in those last three minutes you start to feel it."

Still, Warrick - with the lead evaporating and his teammates buckling - made one final play down the stretch that helped make the difference.

After Maryland pulled within 64-58, Warrick helped break the press and then hustled down the floor on the break. He took a feed from McNamara and thundered home a dunk that pushed the lead back up to eight. He also snagged an offensive rebound in the final two minutes that led to a basket by Josh Pace.

"Hakim was tremendous," Boeheim said. "When he gets down in the low post, he's tough to guard. I felt like they didn't have anyone who could handle him down there, and he really carried us on his back."

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