- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ATLANTA The Maryland Terrapins will make history tonight just by taking the floor at the Georgia Dome for their first national championship game. But just getting there isn't enough; they want to cut down the nets.
"We just want to go in style," Maryland forward Byron Mouton said. "Our chances are better than ever. We have a very talented team. We feel this is our year."
The Terps have been careful all season to focus on the game at hand. Now the next game is also the last game. Maryland already has enjoyed a groundbreaking season in which it set a program record for wins, captured the ACC regular-season title outright for the first time in 22 seasons and advanced to a second consecutive Final Four.
All that's left is the ultimate prize.
Maryland will go for that title against Indiana before more than 50,000 tonight. The contest will mark the final game in the tremendous career of Juan Dixon, the All-American senior who will leave Maryland as the program's all-time leading scorer.
"It's a great opportunity," Dixon said. "People back home never thought Juan Dixon would have a chance to cut the nets down in the national championship game. I just want to be a leader one more game."
Tonight also will mark the biggest game in the 24-year coaching career of Gary Williams, who took over a program in 1989 still reeling from Len Bias' death and turned it into a national power. Williams had never gotten past the Sweet 16 before last season, when the Terps lost to Duke in the national semifinals.
"We've had ups and downs," said Williams, who is completing his 13th season at his alma mater. "As we go along here, I think we are establishing our own tradition."
The Terps (31-4) will need to stop the upstart Hoosiers (25-11) to make the season truly special. While Maryland was ranked in the top five most of the season and came into the NCAA tournament as a No.1 seed, Indiana has persevered in its second season under coach Mike Davis, the highly scrutinized successor to Bob Knight.
The Hoosiers, who have won five national titles but none since 1987, were part of a four-way tie for the Big Ten's regular-season championship. They came into the NCAAs as a fifth seed before stunning top-seeded Duke in a South regional semifinal as power forward Jared Jeffries dominated with a 24-point, 15-rebound performance. Jeffries, a 6-foot-10 sophomore and the Big Ten player of the year, is the middleman of Indiana's deliberate, frustrating offense of back-screens and 3-point shots. The Hoosiers completely took Oklahoma out of its up-tempo rhythm in a 73-64 upset of the second-seeded Sooners in their national semifinal.
Indiana has made 53 percent of its 3-pointers in the tournament but also has shown the ability to pound the ball inside. The Hoosiers pride themselves on a physical style that wears on the patience of a fastbreak team. Maryland likes to go at a fast pace, and Terps point guard Steve Blake has been out of sync running the team the last three games.
"Oklahoma really struggled with that," Williams said before a light 90-minute workout in the dome yesterday afternoon. "Obviously, that really impressed us, Indiana's ability to play drop-back team defense."
The Hoosiers' biggest concern is Dixon, who is having a fabulous tournament. He posted a team-high 33 points against Kansas and stopped the Jayhawks' comeback with a baseline floater after Kansas had sliced a 20-point lead to four in the final minute. Dixon is averaging 27.4 points in the tournament and has taken over several close games at the end.
"He's tough-minded," Davis said. "Just listening to him talk on his interview, he's a guy who is on a mission. He wants to win the championship in the worst way, and you can tell. He's going to try to put Maryland on his back to do that."
The Terps will try to exploit Indiana point guard Tom Coverdale, who is hampered with a sprained ankle. One of the more interesting matchups will be Jeffries against Chris Wilcox, who was Maryland's dominant inside player against Kansas when Lonny Baxter was sidelined with foul trouble. The Terps' power forward had 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots while shutting down Jayhawks All-American Drew Gooden.
Wilcox has put together several dominating performances in the NCAAs after an inconsistent regular season.
"Chris' mom came up to me after we won in Syracuse [over Connecticut] in the East Region final," Dixon said. "She said, 'I can see how much you inspire my son.' I can see it now. He made a couple plays against Kansas and would run back down the court and just stare at me. I must really have affected him. He's a kid. He's only 19 years old. I'm 23. I'm an old man. I just try to help Chris stay focused."
Focused on the one thing that alluded the Terps last season, the same thing all of his teammates want: a title.
"We're 40 minutes away from the ultimate goal," Maryland guard Drew Nicholas said. "We were excited after the Kansas win, but we were mature about it. We didn't celebrate too much. We're looking forward to a big celebration Monday night."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide