- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The basketball teams from Maryland and Connecticut played this one with style and passion inside the Carrier Dome yesterday.
The two teams played with all the good stuff of March. There were so many moments, so many plays, so many stars, plus two exhausted head coaches after the Terps defeated the Huskies 90-82 to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.
Caron Butler led UConn, Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon led the Terps.
Butler is one of the feel-good stories of the tournament, almost eager to explain where he has been. He beat his past before he beat anyone in college basketball.
Butler spent time behind bars after bringing a gun and drugs to high school in Racine, Wis.
He told you he has learned from his mistakes and he is not apt to make them again. There is too much good stuff around him. There is the tournament. There are the riches ahead in the NBA. Who could have imagined all this back when the judge told him he could not go home?
"That is more pressure than being out there in front of a bunch of fans," Butler said.
It was Byron Mouton's job to hold the 6-foot-7 forward in check. Mouton is no "punk," as he put it, just tough enough to accept the assignment.
Mouton landed in College Park as a scorer who never met a shot he didn't like at Tulane. He has come to be the quintessential blue-collar type with the Terps. He stills scores in double figures. He also goes after the opposition's celebrated one with conviction.
The first time the Huskies tried to find Butler, Mouton intercepted the pass and took the ball in the opposite direction. Butler gave chase, a bad decision. He picked up only an early foul for the effort.
Butler spent seven minutes on the bench in the first half after drawing a second foul. You probably didn't notice the difference between Butler being in the game or out of it. He was quiet either way.
Butler came into the game with a 20.0 scoring average and a growing reputation as one of the stars of March after scoring 77 points in the Huskies' three previous tournament games. It was Butler who drained three consecutive free throws against N.C. State in the waning seconds on Fun Street.
The Huskies started to feel Butler's absence near the end of the first half. A close game started to turn in favor of the Terps. When Tahj Holden hit a 3-pointer for the Terps just before halftime, the Huskies appeared to be in trouble. Holden's shot put the Terps up by seven points.
But this is March, and anything can happen in March, and often does. Butler hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, and soon, he was threatening to send the Terps home all by himself.
There was nothing Mouton could do; nothing a zone defense could do. There almost was nothing the Terps could do against Butler, except dump the ball to Baxter on offense and look to outscore him.
Butler vs. the Terps was too close for the longest time. Butler hit 3-pointers, and he hit pull-up jumpers, and he went to the free throw line. The Huskies took a three-point lead after Butler converted two free throws with 4:07 left.
Butler finished with 32 points, 26 in the second half, and was the best player on the floor. Baxter might have been the second-best player, starting on the foul line, surprising as that was.
Baxter came into the game shooting 60.7 percent from the charity stripe. When it mattered most, though, with a berth in the Final Four hanging in the balance, Baxter hit 15 of 18 free throw attempts, including two big ones with 1:14 left.
March is filled with the improbable. Butler was almost invisible in the first half and then he almost won the game all by himself in the second half. Baxter shed his Shaq-like proclivities at the free throw line, and the sighs of relief could be heard from Central New York to College Park.
Steve Blake, the Terps point guard who sometimes appears indifferent to shooting, hit the biggest shot in the game, a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. It was his only field goal in the game, and it was necessitated by a nearly expired shot clock.


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