- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn.
The Terps have purged their indifference of the last month.
The Terps lost five of their last 10 games before the tournament, and lost their dominant hold on the sport. They had a problem with a girlfriend, and they had a problem with Virginia, and they had nine losses to remind them of where they were.
Now they are two games from another berth in the Final Four after slicing up the Musketeers, the first 20 minutes especially compelling.
"That first half was about as well as we've played all season," Terps guard Steve Blake said after the Terps defeated Xavier 77-64 at Gaylord Entertainment Center yesterday.
The Terps found little resistance in the beginning. Their passes kept leading to field goal attempts at close range, the dunk shot in some cases.
It was almost insulting. At least the Musketeers should have felt insulted.
Ryan Randle had two early dunks, and then Jamar Smith came off the bench to contribute two dunks. The Terps missed their first three field goal attempts and then made 18 of 31 to take a 17-point lead after 20 minutes.
The Musketeers were the No.3-seeded team in the South Region, their highest seed ever. They played too long like a No.16 seed.
They apparently forgot the first defensive principle, which is: If all else fails, protect your basket.
The Terps cut to the basket with impunity, as if there was something mysterious about it.
The object of the game is to put the ball in the basket. It follows that the closer you get to the basket, the more likely it is for you to have a higher conversion rate.
The Terps demonstrated this with great efficiency. They would set up in the offense and then someone would zip a pass to a cutting teammate for a layup. This baffled the Musketeers until the second half, by then too late.
Perhaps it was as Terps coach Gary Williams suggested going into the game.
You win the way the Terps won on a buzzer-beating prayer against UNC Wilmington and a team's psychology is certain to improve. The Terps could have lost the game in the first round. Maybe they should have lost it. That is the tournament. That is the way it goes.
Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
The Terps experienced something like that in their run to the Final Four two years ago, only then the first-round opponent was George Mason University, another competent program in the Colonial Athletic Association. That game featured the dominating performance of George Evans and a George Mason team that was one play away from the upset before the Terps pulled it out in the final minute.
The Terps could do likewise again. They are not what they were last season. How can they be? Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox are in the NBA. There is not a certified NBA prospect in Blake, Randle, Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden, the team's four starting seniors. There probably is a 10-day contract in there, possibly even a season on an NBA bench.
Yet the Terps don't have to be what they were the last two seasons. The game of college basketball has become a place for the young or those not ready for the NBA.
David West, the three-time Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, was the most NBA-ready player on the floor. He has solid footwork, a soft shot and is comfortable playing with his back to the basket. He struggled early but eventually imposed himself on the proceedings.
Predictably enough, the Musketeers made a run at the Terps in the second half.
The Musketeers had no reason to be tentative at that point.
Big deficits have a way of altering the equilibrium of two vaguely equal parties.
The team with a fat lead becomes too careful, while the team in a deep hole is able to relax after figuring the worst already has happened.
The Musketeers closed the gap to 60-57 after a free throw by Romain Sato with 6:06 left before the Terps put the finishing touches on the game. Nicholas hit a 3-pointer, and Blake converted a jumper, and just like that, the day's work was nearly done.
"Drew's 3-pointer was huge," Blake said. "That shot got everybody back up, and we just went from there."
As nondescript as the Terps looked in the last month, they were back in the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in 10 seasons.

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