- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

BOISE, Idaho Gary Williams sank 3-point hook shots during Maryland's workout yesterday at Boise State Pavilion. Juan Dixon was showing off with between-the-legs passes and Chris Wilcox was delighting the small group of spectators with sky-walking jams.
The 11th-ranked Terrapins were jovial and loose during the afternoon shootaround the day before they begin their journey into the NCAA tournament one which many forecast will land them in the program's first Final Four. George Mason, the Terps' first-round opponent, took a much more businesslike approach the day before the two schools, which are 30 miles apart in the Washington suburbs, meet 2,000 miles away in the Snake River Plains.
"We're ready to play," said Dixon, in a locker room filled with laughter and smiles. "We're focused. It's the first step we are going to take one step up the ladder at a time."
Maryland, the West Region's third seed, had a more structured practice at a nearby high school earlier in the day. While the Terps are thinking national championship, the 14th-seeded Patriots are looking for their first win in their third trip to the NCAA tournament.
"They are the team expected not only to beat us, but to get to the Final Four," said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, who led his team to its second CAA title in three seasons. "So it's our job to stay focused on the things we've done all season and to execute them at a very high level.
The Terps (21-10) dismissing the Patriots (18-11) should be a mere formality; Maryland has too many weapons, including one of the nation's top benches. The winner will face the survivor of the game between sixth-seeded Wisconsin and No. 11 Georgia State in the second round on Saturday.
Maryland is playing its best basketball of the season, despite having its six-game winning streak snapped in a thrilling two-point loss to top-ranked Duke in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The Terps are 10 deep and play a high-paced style that has been wearing out ACC and nationally-ranked foes.
"The one thing we can't do is overlook people," Maryland power forward Terence Morris said. "We got ourselves in a situation where we're not going to blow this."
George Mason's hopes rests on the efforts of center George Evans and shooting guard Erik Herring, as well as the Patriots' ability to slow down the game.
Evans, the 30-year old Gulf War veteran, is a 6-foot-7, 225-pound center and three-time CAA player of the year. The senior averages 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. The game provides Evans with a chance at redemption. The only time in his career he was held scoreless was when Cincinnati routed the Patriots 72-48 in the NCAA tournament's opening round two years ago in Boston.
"I know I didn't play particularly well," said Evans, who often thinks about that 0-for-6 performance. "I can't see that happening again. I know I was shell-shocked by the atmosphere and all the attention."
Herring is a slasher capable of having explosive games. The 6-5 senior missed the last NCAA game after he broke his right foot in the CAA title game. The All-CAA shooting guard averages 15.9 points and makes 40 percent of his 3-pointers. Herring has scored 20 or more points nine times, including 30 against James Madison and 28 against New Mexico.
But that firepower should be matched by Dixon (18.4 points) and Terps 6-8, 260-pound center Lonny Baxter (15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds) who will bang with Evans. Outside of Evans and Herring, the Patriots are inferior to the Terps' talent at each position as well as the bench. Point guard Steve Blake should have no problems with Patriots counterpart Tremaine Price. Jesse Young is no match for Morris at power forward.
The Patriots surprised Maryland in a game early last season before losing 69-66 at Cole Field House. However, that was a young Maryland team that was just starting to develop together. After a long layoff for exams, the Terps came out flat in that December game. Maryland should have no problems getting up for an NCAA game.
The Terps are loose and confident and should continue their festive mood tonight.
"We're playing well right now," said Williams, who made several of his 3-point hooks from the right wing. "I really think we are going into the tournament the way we want to. It's not false bravado. We've played well. We've beaten good teams. We're as ready as we can be. We feel good right now."


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