- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

LOS ANGELES The Maryland basketball team flew out of Idaho yesterday in hopes of landing in a place it hasn't visited in a quarter of a century. The Terps traveled to Southern California to begin preparing for Thursday's Sweet 16 game at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif.

The Terps have ventured 3,000 miles for the West Region semifinal, where a win would send them to their first Elite Eight since 1975. But blocking the way is a school just a short commute from College Park. The Georgetown Hoyas might pass for a Cinderella if their bulky big men don't shatter the glass slipper. In addition to getting within one game of the Final Four, local bragging rights are on the line.

"I'm not wasting time on that," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Our Sweet 16 game is Georgetown. That's all that matters. A lot of other people will talk about that. But to me, it's irrelevant."

Williams will attempt to downplay the checkered history between the top two local programs as he braces for the inevitable hype. The neighbors who have met just once in the last 20 years will play for the first time since 1993, when freshman Joe Smith led the Terps to an 84-83 overtime win at Capital Centre. The previous meeting came in the 1980 NCAA tournament when the Hoyas prevailed 74-68 in a second-round game in Philadelphia.

Maryland, seeded third in the West, plans to return the postseason favor. The Terps began this season's tournament by stumbling in the first round before squeaking past 14th-seeded George Mason, but righted themselves in a rout of an undersized Georgia State team, seeded 11th, on Saturday. Pivot men Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris rebounded from awful first-round performances to lead the way.

"I was really mad at myself because I knew that wasn't me out there against George Mason," said Morris, who had 14 points and nine rebounds against the Panthers after a season-low four-point showing against the Patriots. "I wasn't aggressive at all. I came out with an aggressive mind [against Georgia State] that I was going to take whatever they gave me points inside, rebound, block shots everything."

The matchup with the 10th-seeded Hoyas will mark a stark contrast to playing Lefty Driesell's running Panthers. Baxter will battle freshman Mike Sweetney, both listed at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. Morris, at 6-9, will spend time guarding 7-footer Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.

"They're big, probably as big as any team we face North Carolina big," said Williams, of the Hoyas having three players at least 6-11 besides the broad Sweetney. "And Kevin Braswell is a great guard. He's a big-play guy."

The Terps have an advantage on the perimeter with Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and Byron Mouton, but must neutralize the inside game to win.

Maryland (23-10) is known as a finesse team. Seven-footer Mike Mardesich and 6-10, 250-pound Tahj Holden will be asked to come off the bench and match muscle with the Hoyas (25-7).

The Terps have an edge in depth, with small forward Danny Miller becoming a major contributor late in the season. The 6-8 junior with surprising quickness for his size shut down Georgia State leading scorer Shernard Long, who is four inches shorter, in the second half. Meanwhile, the Terps were the aggressor by pounding the ball inside to Baxter (19 points, 14 rebounds) and Morris.

It took until midway through the second half before the Terps wore out the undermanned Panthers and eased their way into their fifth Sweet 16 in eight seasons, a round that has not been kind to Maryland. Williams has an 0-6 record in region semifinals, including an 0-4 record in his 12 seasons at Maryland.

Williams changed the team's travel plans from when Maryland was in the same situation in 1998. That season he took the team back to College Park from Sacramento, Calif., after the subregional, before returning to the region semifinals in Anaheim.

"It's too hard to travel like that," said Williams, whose fourth-seeded team fell to top-ranked Arizona in the region semifinal. "Guys get back home late Sunday night and come back out on Tuesday. This time we can practice hard without the jet lag situation."

Jet lag won't be an issue, but an intriguing matchup will be as the Terps shoot for the "Washington area championship" as well as the school's first Elite Eight appearance since before any of the players were born.

"I can live with that," said Williams, who gave his team the day off from practice. "What I try to do is keep the [hype] away from the players. I don't want them to dwell on outside stories."


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