- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ATLANTA — Coach Gary Williams and the Terps have come to the doorstep of basketball history after 98 years.
The first Maryland team, in the 1904-05 season, was 0-2, losers to both the Washington YMCA and Carroll Institute. This team is 31-4 and heavily favored to expose the Hoosiers and claim the national championship tonight at the Georgia Dome.
The Terps are where they expected to be after reaching the Final Four in Minneapolis last season. The Hoosiers are just making their way out of Bob Knight's shadow, and have 11 losses next to their credentials.
The Hoosiers have the 1983 N.C. State and 1985 Villanova quality about them. They have not been good enough, except on the scoreboard.
"We're going to have to play a great game to beat them, and we understand that," Williams said yesterday.
The company line is not intended to be illuminating. The Terps are the better team, as determined by a season, just not necessarily the better team on a particular night. The Hoosiers already have demonstrated that against two superior opponents in the tournament: the Blue Devils and the Sooners.
Mike Davis, the Indiana coach, is inclined to dismiss the perceptions, even the favorable ones. He is suddenly one of the smartest coaches around. In the last few days, by his calculations, he has been the object of at least three kisses, each dispensed by a man, no less.
"They told me they love me," Davis said. "If you don't know who you are, it's easy to get caught up in it. It's just a basketball game. It's something I love to do, the only thing I can do, as far as working, because I didn't want to work a 9-to-5 job."
The Hoosiers are the blue bloods with a blue-collar approach. They move at the speed of slow and slower, depending on the condition of Tom Coverdale's left ankle. The difference is perhaps immeasurable, as Terps point guard Steve Blake saw it.
"His ankle looked fine to me in the last game," he said.
In preseason, Davis, well past his athletic prime, felt confident enough to challenge Coverdale, Dane Fife and Kyle Hornsby to a race. The point was not appreciated. Davis' hamstring did not appreciate it either.
"Ended up pulling it," he said.
The Hoosiers play the game as if it were televised in black and white. They work the shot clock to limit the number of possessions. They set bone-jarring picks and either dump the ball to Jared Jeffries near the basket or to one of the shooters standing behind the 3-point line.
The Hoosiers also play defense by committee, with a bump, an elbow and lots of help.
One of their principal concerns is Terps guard Juan Dixon, who has emerged as the dominant player in the tournament. This is not bad for someone who was considered too small to play in the ACC as a prepster at Calvert Hall in Baltimore.
The assignment to defend Dixon goes to Fife. The rest of the Hoosiers have been alerted to provide an extra hand in Dixon's face.
If that doesn't work, Davis said, "You hope he has an off night."
Williams would not object to having Lonny Baxter on the floor for more than 14 minutes, the sum of his foul-plagued stint against Kansas. Baxter finished with more fouls than points and a reason to be less aggressive in heavy traffic by the basket. His funk was minimized by Tahj Holden, one piece of the team's quality depth.
The Terps have been unwavering in their sense of purpose this season. It was planted by the loss to Duke in the semifinals last season and the 22-point lead that somehow disappeared. They believe this is their moment, their game, their time.
The no-nonsense attitude reflects the harried soul on the sidelines, the former .539 percent free throw shooter at Maryland who has led the program to its greatest success.
Williams attended his first Final Four in 1973, in St. Louis, back in his days as a basketball assistant and head soccer coach at Lafayette College.
Twenty-nine years later, Williams is up against the biggest game of his coaching life.
It should turn out in his favor.


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