- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

There was the misery in Maui, the debacle against Duke and the fallout against Florida State with the latter leaving Maryland's fans booing and its season on the brink of disaster. There also was the payback at Duke on Senior Day, the clubbing of Virginia and the miraculous march to the first Final Four in school history.
"I don't think a movie writer could have written something like this," Terrapins center Mike Mardesich said. "It's just amazing."
The Terps' script began near the tropical beaches of Hawaii and will close in the frigid temperatures of Minneapolis. Maryland's season has been just as varied as those extreme climates. The Terps have won 10 of their past 11 heading into the national semifinal with Duke at the Metrodome on Saturday night.
But the season began with a disappointing showing at the Maui Invitational. Coach Gary Williams was so frustrated after a disheartening loss to Dayton in the third-place game that he walked about a mile back to the hotel. That walk on the beach began what has been anything but a day at the beach for his Terps.
"We believed the ranking too much," small forward Byron Mouton said about Maryland's No. 5 spot in the preseason Associated Press poll. "Too many people were like, 'You're a top-5 team. You're going to win the national championship.' We weren't playing like that."
The Terps were embarrassed first by then-eighth-ranked Illinois, which had an 18-rebound margin, and then by the unranked Flyers, a smaller team that won the battle of the boards by eight. The lackadaisical Terps were outhustled as a season that began with such optimism in paradise quickly turned into a tropical disaster.
The losing streak grew to three with a loss to then-23rd-ranked Wisconsin. Still, the Terps seemingly turned themselves around with a 10-game winning streak against lighter competition like a 62-point victory over Chicago State before starting the ACC schedule. After winning its first two league games, Maryland blew a four-point halftime lead against North Carolina and trailed by as many as 19 in the second half before a failed rally to end the game.
The Terps regained momentum with a 10-point victory over then-10th-ranked Wake Forest as Juan Dixon poured in 30 points. They improved to 5-1 in the league after a win at N.C. State before the infamous self-destruction at home against Duke.
Maryland was flawless for 39 minutes and controlled the match with second-ranked Duke at Cole Field House on Jan. 27. But the Terps blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation before losing in overtime. Maryland became a national object of ridicule for blowing a seemingly insurmountable advantage.
"You're up 14 points with 2:10 remaining, you should win the game," Terps point guard Drew Nicholas said that night. "It's a horrible feeling."
It was only the start of Maryland's plummet, in which it lost five in a six-game span. Virginia toasted the reeling Terps 99-78 the next time out. A home win over Clemson was followed by another lackluster loss to Georgia Tech and a second-half meltdown at North Carolina.
Then the unthinkable happened: Maryland sunk so low that it lost to ACC lightweight Florida State at Cole Field House. The Terps were routinely booed in the devastating loss and heard a particularly strong chorus while exiting the court with a 74-71 defeat and a 15-9 record on Valentine's Day.
"We heard it all, from NIT chants to 'Fire Coach Williams,' " Nicholas recalled. "It was the lowest point of the season."
Mouton sat in front of his locker after the game, sobbing uncontrollably with a towel draped over his head as Maryland's NCAA hopes were fading.
"I never imagined that in my worst nightmares," Mouton said.
But something changed in practice the next day. Williams softened his approach, and players responded to the relaxed atmosphere. The team even played a game of "Horse" the day before playing at Wake Forest.
The Terps dominated the Demon Deacons. Baxter recorded 19 points and 14 rebounds as Maryland's big men were dominant in the 73-57 rout. It would spur the run that eventually landed the Terps in their first Final Four.
"We realized the season could go two ways," Mardesich said about the Terps, who routed N.C. State by 29 the next time and then won a physical battle over nationally ranked Oklahoma. "There were just a couple things that needed to change attitude wise."
Maryland came full circle by beating Duke on Senior Day in Cameron Indoor Stadium, one month to the day the Blue Devils had humiliated the Terps. Dixon led the way with 28, and reserve Danny Miller provided a huge boost off the bench, including a late block on All-American Shane Battier.
The Terps closed the regular season with a 35-point drubbing of Virginia.
"We were just letting people outhustle us," Mouton said of the team's attitude change. "Right now, if you are going to drive to the hole, three or four guys are going to clobber you. You're not going to get an easy basket. I think that's the most important thing because we're putting fear in other people's eyes."
The run continued in the postseason despite a thrilling 84-82 loss to Duke in the ACC semifinals. After squeaking past George Mason in the first round, Maryland scored double-digit wins over Georgia State, Georgetown and Stanford for its first regional championship and Final Four appearance.
"We are a better team because of all the adversity," Nicholas said. "We have matured and learned how to handle all kinds of situations. It made us tougher and closer. Who knows what would have happened if we had won the first Duke game? The season might be over now."
And that wouldn't have made for much of a script.


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