- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Maryland guard Steve Blake has become a 172-pound enforcer with a 20-point reach and a counterpunching attitude.
The only returning starter from last season's national championship team may be soft-spoken, but he's not afraid to intimidate.
When N.C. State's Julius Hodge pledged to bring his "A" game to Maryland after two rough games last year, Blake dropped 20 points on the Wolfpack and turned in a standout defensive effort Thursday in the No.10 Terrapins' victory. Hodge twice smacked the floor while awaiting Blake in a defensive stance, but the latter delivered the smackdown.
"This isn't church. There's going to be some times where it's tough out on the court. Both players didn't back off. They just played," coach Gary Williams said. "Steve knows what people were saying before the game. He had to stay just being Steve Blake. He didn't have to try to do anything more. Players have to be themselves on the court, show some emotion. … As long as you're not taunting a team I don't have a problem."
Blake wants the respect owed a champion before his four-year tenure ends. If opponents seek revenge for last year's losses, they'll have to pry away the crown. Blake is simply looking to the next game.
"I'm thrilled to be playing again. I'm going to miss it when I'm gone, but I'm enjoying it for now," he said. "I don't think about [last year] anymore. I just think about the game in hand. Instead of [opponents] thinking, 'Oh, they're the national champions,' we're just another team to them."
The active college assist leader with 866 doesn't have teammates who instinctively know where the ball is headed or a lottery pick to carry the scoring. Blake is the centerpiece.
Guard Drew Nicholas may be the top scorer (18.3 points) and center Ryan Randle the quintessential big man, but Blake is the playmaker. When Nicholas was scoreless for 25 minutes and Randle bogged down underneath, Blake scored 10 points in each half Thursday night.
Williams doesn't focus on Blake too often during games. After 122 starts and 95 victories, Blake gets some slack from his coach. In return, he has produced a well-rounded effort by averaging 11.9 points, 6.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Blake also has converted 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers.
"Steve's really been a part of a lot of great wins for us," Williams said. "We need his leadership down the stretch. Like all point guards, he's been criticized at times, but he knows where the ball should go."
The Terps' all-senior lineup is jelling. Maryland is 4-0 since uniting the seniors and 9-1 after a rocky 4-3 start. Blake's supporting cast is finding the right chemistry and the experience is a factor why Maryland is leading the ACC at 6-1 going into tomorrow's non-conference game with Loyola and Thursday's date with Virginia at Comcast Center.
"Some people gave us the look, 'Yeah, you guys have seniors and experience, but that doesn't mean talent,'" Nicholas said. "But look at the league. Young teams are going to have their bumps."
Maryland is now 10 deep, but the four freshmen and junior college transfer forward Jamar Smith are supporting role players. How deep Maryland ventures into the NCAA tournament will largely depend on the seniors.
"I put no limit on the team going into the year. I just knew we could get better if we continued to work hard," Williams said. "The freshmen are better practice players than they were in November, and that's made a difference. The seniors have had to work hard, and that makes them better."

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