- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

ANAHEIM, Calif. Can Maryland handle the pressure?

The answer will determine the winner of tonight's Beltway Brawl between third-seeded Maryland (23-10) and 10th-seeded Georgetown (25-7) at Arrowhead Pond.

Georgetown is happy to be here. Maryland is supposed to be here. Georgetown is treating tonight's game like its biggest of the new millennium. Maryland is trying to treat it like business as usual. Georgetown sees the game as an opportunity. Maryland sees it as a chore.

You don't have to be Peter Falk to read between the lines. When the Terrapins take the floor tonight against the Hoyas, they will be facing two kinds of pressure they have not seen all season.

The first will come from Georgetown and coach Craig Esherick as the Hoyas attack Maryland with a vintage version of the program's black-and-blue defense.

"There is not one style [of defense] that I can say is going to work against them, because they've been offensively effective against different teams using different defenses," Esherick said yesterday. "They are as talented an offensive team as we've seen this year… . But I'm going to do the same thing I normally do to start the game. We're going to pick them up fullcourt, and we're going to change defenses. And I'm going to try and find a defense to hopefully hold them under 86 points, which is what they average."

But it's the second and potentially more paralyzing pressure facing Maryland that could ultimately terrorize the Terps a burden composed of equal parts expectation and history that has the power to turn All-Americans into applesauce.

Maryland began the season as the fifth-ranked team in the nation. Before the NCAA tournament began, many pundits picked them to reach the program's first Final Four. And tonight the Terps will be 8 and 1/2-point favorites. But every player on the roster remembers last season's NCAA tournament debacle against UCLA, when the Bruins buried the Terps 105-70. And nobody, particularly Maryland coach Gary Williams, needs to be reminded that the Terps have lost seven straight Sweet 16 games. To lose another such game, especially against the Hoyas, would be almost unspeakably humiliating.

"There's probably a little more pressure on them," Georgetown junior point guard Kevin Braswell said. "I mean, they're the No. 3 seed, and we're the No. 10 seed."

But don't tell that to Williams, who has spent all week trying to downplay the magnitude of both the game and the opponent.

"In terms of what one game can mean to your program, it will mean a lot until we start playing next year," he said. "Right now, it's big, but by next year… . College basketball is really current nowadays. There's not much carryover from the end of last season to this season, and it will be the same next year."

Nobody is arguing that College Park will spontaneously combust if the Terps lose. But does anyone really think that when two teams separated by 15 miles get together for the first time in seven seasons and just the second time in 20 years that the game will be totally forgotten by next October?

"No way," said Georgetown reserve forward Lee Scruggs. "There are a lot of guys that know each other on both teams, plus all the fans in D.C., so this one's not going away win or lose. I know I'm more excited about this one than I've ever been for a game, because you see those guys play all the time and read so much about them."

Therein lies the other bundle of emotional dynamite at play. In terms of respect, Maryland gains very little by beating Georgetown tonight. The Hoyas, on the other hand, feel slighted by the ACC-crazed area, and view the game as the ultimate opportunity to regain the local and national respect the program lost over the last few years.

"I'm taking this game kind of personal, because I've wanted to match up with [Terence] Morris for a long time now. We have similar games, and I want to see how I stack up," Scruggs said. "I think pretty much everybody on our team feels the same way, because we've all wanted to play them for a long time. They might be expecting just another old game, but it's going to be a war out there, believe me."


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