- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams will be the only coach returning to this year's NCAA Final Four. But he will not be his team's only "senior" representative. In an era when college players routinely leave their universities for the NBA after their freshman or sophomore years, two remarkably talented Maryland seniors, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, will be accompanying their coach. By defeating Connecticut (90-82) last weekend in one of the season's most exciting college games there were 25 lead changes and 21 ties, including seven lead changes and eight ties during the final 12 minutes Maryland earned the right to face the tournament's only other remaining No. 1 seed, Kansas, tonight in Atlanta.

Earlier in the tournament, the Dixon- and Baxter-led Terrapins, who are peaking at precisely the right moment, had trounced Wisconsin by 30 points and convincingly beat perennial power Kentucky by 10. Beating Kansas and then defeating, on Monday, the winner of today's Indiana-Oklahoma game would bring the first national championship in basketball to College Park in Maryland's long, tradition-laden, and sometimes-controversial history.

For their part, Baxter and Dixon no longer have anything to prove at the collegiate level. They have already overwhelmingly demonstrated how wrong the recruiting experts were. Four years ago, those skeptics ranked the potential of Baxter and Dixon substantially below the potential of scores of their high school competitors. After four years of hard work and superb coaching, however, Dixon, a 6-foot-3, 164-pound guard, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, and he has earned first-team All-America honors. Last weekend Baxter, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound center, was named the East Region's most valuable player for the second year in a row.

Anyone who witnessed the game against Connecticut knows that both athletes are among the best at their positions. In the biggest game of the season so far, Baxter scored a season-high 29 points, hitting an impressive seven of 12 from the field and an awesome 15 of 18 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed nine rebounds, while shutting down his heralded shot-blocking opponent. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun called Baxter the "most efficient offensive player we have ever faced." Playing 39 of 40 minutes, Dixon scored 27 points. He knocked down a crucial 3-pointer to tie the game at 77 apiece and then, 46 seconds later, converted two free throws to make it 79-77, after which Connecticut never regained the lead.

Referring to Dixon, Baxter and Byron Mouton, another key senior on the team, Williams said, "I don't think there has ever been a better class at the university," adding, "To get us to two Final Fours" where Maryland had never been before last year "with their leadership has been incredible." Can't argue with that.


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