- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

ANAHEIM, Calif. Terence Morris broke out of his slump and started the shooting frenzy, and Steve Blake, Tahj Holden and Juan Dixon kept up the long-distance marksmanship. Lonny Baxter controlled the paint as Maryland took California by storm, winning the West Region and earning the first Final Four berth in its 97-season basketball history with a surprisingly easy 87-73 win over Stanford on Saturday.
The Terrapins left Anaheim late Saturday night for College Park, where they will practice and attend classes before jetting to Minneapolis, site of the Final Four, on Wednesday. There the Terps and ACC-rival Duke will meet for a fourth time this season in what has become one of the more dramatic, and at times tragic, matchups of the 2001 season. This time the winner earns a berth in next Monday's national championship game.
"This is what we came here for," said Terps small forward Danny Miller, who has become a defensive stopper off the bench. "We know how great we are. We have two more games to win."
Maryland's 58 percent shooting left the top-seeded Cardinal dizzy, and its overwhelming depth left them fatigued. The third-seeded Terps imposed their will and a frenetic pace to run past stunned Stanford. Byron Mouton and Miller limited Cardinal All-American Casey Jacobsen to 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting, and Baxter and Co. outmuscled and outplayed Stanford's vaunted big men, twins Jason and Jarron Collins.
"They are very athletic," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said after the Terps made nine of 13 3-pointers. "They can take a Mouton, who doesn't have to score, and put him on Casey and disrupt Casey from getting the looks he wants. They can run five big guys at you with 6-10 [Holden], seven-feet [Mike Mardesich] and 6-10 [Chris Wilcox], and they don't care if they get in foul trouble if they protect Baxter. That disrupts our inside game. It's the perfect combination of things."
And coach Gary Williams is pulling the right strings as the Terps (25-10) dispatched Stanford (31-3) in high-octane fashion and won for the 10th time in 11 games. Baxter was named region MVP after totaling 50 points, 24 against Stanford, and 20 rebounds in the last two games. The 6-8, 260-pound junior used his quickness to go around Cardinal 7-footer Jason Collins and flashed his seldom-seen ball-handling skills to set up his own layups.
It all led up to a wild on-court celebration with hugs and a net-cutting ceremony that left the Terps in tears. Mardesich, who became a vocal leader during their midseason strife, wore the twine around his neck in the locker room after the game.
"A lot of teams could have folded, but we put it together," said Mardesich, a fifth-year senior. "A couple weeks ago people wanted Coach's job. This made a statement."
Two months ago the season appeared to be slipping away for the Terps. After it blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation against Duke, Maryland began a stretch of five losses in six games. Things bottomed out with a demoralizing home defeat to lowly Florida State as the Maryland faithful booed the home team's horrendous play.
Williams walked through the tunnel leading to the locker room in Cole Field House after that game and recalls a fan yelling to him, "See you in the NIT." The feisty coach made a mental note of that moment.
"I took a pretty good look at the guy who said that," said Williams, who admits that at the time he wondered whether his team would win another game. "I have been looking for him. I haven't seen him since."
The Terps have been smoldering since, beginning with a 16-point win at nationally ranked Wake Forest. Maryland stunned Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and trounced Virginia by 35 points to close the regular season.
Their only loss since the Valentine's Day Massacre against the Seminoles was another classic battle with Duke in the ACC tournament semifinal. Duke won that game when Nate James broke a tie with a tip-in with less than three seconds to play and Juan Dixon's 40-foot heave at the buzzer rattled in and out. After the game Duke's Shane Battier hugged Dixon and told him he would see him at the Final Four. It was one of those things said in the emotional aftermath of a game, but few expected it to come to pass.
Incredibly, it has.
Maryland narrowly escaped its NCAA first-round game with George Mason and gained steam since as it eliminated Georgia State and then Georgetown in the Sweet 16.
"I'm not even going to think about Duke right now," said Terps point guard Steve Blake, who sank all three of his 3-point shots against Stanford. "I'm just thrilled to get to the Final Four. A lot of people doubted us when we were losing. I just want to celebrate for a little while."
Williams won his first Sweet 16 game in seven tries Thursday before breaking through the Elite Eight on his first attempt. The coach heard the criticism for failing to take the Terps deeper into the tournament in the past. He caught flack for this year's midseason swoon, but now he has reached the sport's premier event with the biggest win in school history Saturday.
"We were just desperate to go to the Final Four and get Coach there for the first time," said Baxter, who rebounded from a two-point game against George Mason with three stellar outings. "We aren't satisfied. We want to go on and win the national championship."


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