- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

SYRACUSE, N.Y. The NCAA picked a fine place to hold the East Region, if a sterile dome, a cold, gray sky and a 57-vehicle pileup on Interstate 81 qualify as fine.
The NCAA was treated to a foot of snow in certain parts of Central New York on Friday.
That was the first sign of spring here. The second was the "world's biggest parking lot on I-81," according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. This was after one fender bender led to another and still another until a motorist, looking at the sea of stranded vehicles before him, asked, "Was there some sort of accident?"
They apparently don't know how to drive in the white stuff here either, although they receive a lot more practice at it than Washington.
It could be worse. The NCAA could have picked the outdoor football stadium in Buffalo. Or the hockey rink in Lake Placid. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in the NCAA's taste in venues, motivated as it is by the scent of green?
They stuffed 29,633 dedicated souls in the slab of concrete with the mushroom cloud on top. By the NCAA's hard calculations, the ambiance of a basketball arena is sacrificed in the spirit of 7,000 to 8,000 extra fannies.
A good number of them needed exceptional vision to follow the proceedings. These are the so-called long-range view seats. They cost $40 a pop, binoculars not included.
The venue exceeds the demand, if it matters to the suits. Tickets are still available for the Maryland-UConn game today.
They have equipped the building with the usual arrangement of security personnel and concrete barricades following September 11. This also discourages those with second thoughts from leaving.
In the nether reaches, they monitor the action by the distant sounds below. The atmosphere is as drab as the building, apparently built by the architects of the old Soviet Union.
They don't cheer in unison. They cheer in waves, one section followed by another, after the following question has been addressed: "What just happened?"
The contingents with Southern Illinois and Kentucky were able to leave town after one night. That was the door prize that goes with the court named after Jim Boeheim. In the case of Southern Illinois, it felt doubly good to skip town and the hotel that failed the team's bed inspection.
"Of course, we didn't lose because of the hotel," Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber said, trying not to implicate Hotel Syracuse in the team's 12-point loss to UConn.
That leaves the Terrapins and Huskies, who took it one question at a time with the media yesterday, just as they have taken each game this season. Two games at a time would be a matchup nightmare, no doubt.
Neither team is coming off a work of art. Not that this is a concern. This is the Elite Eight, a breathless distinction from the 327 Division I programs.
As Terps coach Gary Williams said, "We did enough to win the Kentucky game, and at this time of the year, that's the most important thing."
The Terps are just one game from a return trip to the Final Four, their seemingly impossible destination before last season.
Better yet, the specter of Duke is no longer around to haunt the Terps. That is one unexpected break, UConn possibly another. The Terps defeated the Huskies 77-65 in the BB&T; Classic in early December.
Williams emphasized the calendar instead of the outcome. That game was more than three months ago, after all.
"I think they're a better team now than at the time we played them," Williams said. "But then, we're a better team, too."
The Terps are resourceful. They adjusted quicker to the expansive surroundings than the Wildcats, dumping the ball to their low-post players with greater frequency in the second half.
Domes have a way of swallowing the shots of visiting perimeter players, as Steve Blake and Juan Dixon discovered. The two combined to make only eight of 24 field goal attempts against the Wildcats.
"We can go through tough stretches in a game and not lose focus," Williams said. "We don't panic."
Not panicking is essential in these parts.


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