- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

Although Maryland's Steve Blake has 911 career assists, the senior point guard is through passing off the Terrapins' fate to others.
Blake never considered bypassing a last-second shot in Wednesday night's game at Duke. No matter that the 3-pointer fell short in Maryland's 75-70 loss. Blake believes he has to lead instead of setting up others. After scoring 21 points in a 90-67 victory over Wake Forest on Monday and 12 vs. Duke, Blake wants a chance in a different sort of role: lead scorer.
"It's not like it's something I haven't done before," Blake said. "When I played in pickup games my whole life, I've always been able to score. It's just been since I've been in college [that Ive set up others]. I've never been a first option to score, but I'm capable of doing it. I need to be playing at the top of my game. I like to put that pressure on myself and believe if I play well we'll go far and [it will] make my teammates play better."
The No.13 Terps (16-7, 8-4) play host to North Carolina (14-11, 4-7) today at Comcast Center probably needing to sweep their final four games to gain the top seed in the ACC tournament. Blake, the only returning starter from last year's national champions, has been more emotional this season in talking with officials after controversial calls and pushing back opposing players. The final days of a standout four-year career won't see him dispassionate.
"Steve's getting more emotional," coach Gary Williams said. "He's letting his feelings show out there. It's his team. He's earned it."
Blake has averaged 8.1 points in a school-record 127 starts, but his 12.2 mark this season includes four 20-plus games. When Maryland has needed a big basket, Blake hasn't been afraid to keep the ball, driving or getting behind a screen for a 3-point shot.
"He's like an assassin," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "He may only have but five points in a game, but they need a big basket and he nails a 3."
But Blake can't abandon his point guard role, or Maryland's offense would crumble. He still has to set up the inside game or dish off on the run.
"He's looking to score more, [but] you don't want that to take away from the way you run the team's offense," Williams said. "and he's been able to do that."
Maryland's frontcourt has sometimes sputtered, and shooting guard Drew Nicholas scored only eight points at Duke. That's why Blake feels added pressure to produce in late-season games.
"I have the opportunity to create," he said. "I've been trying to do that the last two games. I didn't knock down the shots I wanted to against Duke, but I created some shots for other guys. I'm trying to be aggressive, trying to make everything work, do everything I can.
"These past few games, I feel like I have been playing very well. I'm very confident. I feel like what I'm doing is working. I'm being aggressive. There are some plays for me to penetrate more. I'm just real intense, enjoy being out there, just playing ball. I feel fast right now. I feel like I'm as fast as I've been.
However, Blake knows the downside of taking on too much. He didn't play especially well in the Final Four last season after hitting a key late shot in the region final.
"I don't know if I put too much pressure on myself. I just didn't play well," Blake said. "Sometimes you just don't have it, but I don't plan on that happening this year. I plan on playing well all the way throughout and not changing one thing."
Maryland is tied with Duke, a half-game behind ACC-leading Wake Forest, while North Carolina is suffering through another lackluster season. However, Williams said the matchup has caused his phone to ring relentlessly from ticket seekers.
"The Carolina thing is still there, believe me," Williams said of the rivalry between the schools. "I've had more request for this game than any this year."
After all, Maryland is still in the chase.
"If you were to say on Feb.21 you'd be half a game out of first tied with Duke, you'd be in pretty good shape," Williams said. "Of course, if you said tied with Duke, most people would assume we'd be tied for first."


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