- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

For the Maryland Terrapins, the NCAA tournament's first weekend produced two easy victories on a floor that provided a significant home-court advantage. By winning, the Terps advanced to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the last nine seasons under coach Gary Williams.

At the Sweet 16 table though, the stakes are higher.

The Terps, top seed in the East, travel to Syracuse, N.Y., today a relaxed and confident group. Once there, they begin preparation for fourth-seeded Kentucky, which they face Friday in the second regional semifinal at approximately 10 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. In Syracuse, the Terps will attempt to duplicate last year's visit in the round of 16 win two games to advance to the Final Four.

Maryland's first weekend in the tournament concluded with an 87-57 blowout of Wisconsin in which a sensational second half repelled the Badgers. Though Maryland played at an extremely high level at times, players believe there is room to ratchet up their game.

"I feel we can get better I always feel we can improve," Steve Blake said. "We definitely played really well the last game. I think we can even be better."

Blake's words and most of those of his teammates yesterday revealed an unquenched desire to push forward and succeed much like last season's team did. And at this juncture, Williams and his players said, their concern is focusing on and honing what they do instead of than worrying about the problems that opponents present.

In Kentucky, Maryland faces a team that has overcome a number of distractions to advance through the first two rounds of the tournament. This season, Kentucky has had a player transfer, two suspended for fighting each other on the team charter and two charged with displaying fake IDs trying to get into a nightclub.

The Wildcats (22-9) lost in the first round of the SEC tournament. Then the Wildcats beat 13th-seeded Valparaiso in the first round of the NCAAs and, behind a career-high 41 points from senior forward Tayshaun Prince, knocked off 12th-seeded Tulsa in the second round.

"They remind me of a 'young us' last year, a team that has tons of potential and tons of talent, and they just didn't put it all together in the regular season," Maryland junior Drew Nicholas said. "They're putting it together now, just like we did last March."

Domed arenas present a different and sometimes troublesome shooting environment. Juan Dixon, who recorded the best two consecutive-game NCAA tournament scoring total in program history by scoring 58 points Friday and Sunday, called close friend Kevin Braswell of Georgetown yesterday to get the scouting report on shooting in the Carrier Dome. Braswell, who played at the dome several times against Syracuse, told Dixon the rims are pretty friendly, and the arena is pretty much like any other dome.

No Terps have played a game in the Carrier Dome, but they have dome experience, having played at the Metrodome in Minneapolis in last season's Final Four and in the 2000 first and second round.

"When you're playing in domes, it feels like you're trying to throw the ball in a rim that's sitting in the middle of an ocean," Nicholas said. "You can't tell how far it is, whether you're 18 feet or 25 feet away from the basket. So the first couple shots of the game might look a little ugly. … The backdrop will get you a little bit."

No matter what the venue, the Terps are expecting to win, though playing for the first time in program history as a No.1 seed adds pressure.

"I think it's great to make it to the Sweet 16, but obviously you don't want to be satisfied [with that]," Williams said. "You want to keep the hunger there. You want to go further."

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