- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The inclement winter weather may have abandoned the area, but the Maryland basketball team will have one more Blizzard to deal with when it heads to Nashville, Tenn.

Senior guard Brett Blizzard, the first player to garner first-team accolades all four years in the Colonial Athletic Association, keys the upset-minded UNC Wilmington Seahawks when they face the Terrapins Friday in a South Region first-round game in the NCAA tournament.

"I don't know much about UNC Wilmington yet, but I'll find out for sure," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "I know that they have a player who is very good and can play with anybody."

The Seahawks (24-6) set a school mark for wins this season, are making their third NCAA appearance in the last four years and sport the highest seed (11) for a CAA school since Navy landed an eight seed in 1987.

"We're looking forward to heading back to the tournament and are excited about facing Maryland," Blizzard said Sunday. "Maryland is a good team, they're the national champions and it will be a good matchup for us."

Blizzard's role in the team's ascension has been crucial, and along the way he's picked up the school's all-time records for points (2,038), games played (124), and steals (246).

"What he's done for this program is immeasurable," said first-year coach Brad Brownell, a longtime assistant to former Seahawks coach Jerry Wainwright, now at Richmond. "Growing up in Tallahassee, he had aspirations to play for Florida State, but we liked him and kept following him. People weren't sure about his athleticism, and we were giving him a chance to play right away."

Nobody's questioning his athleticism now, especially in what could be his best season. Blizzard, a two-time reigning conference player of the year, needs just 14 points to break the school's season scoring mark.

"I know what I can do and I feel I don't have to prove anything to the ACC," Blizzard said. "I'm just going to go out and play my game."

The 6-foot-4 Blizzard shoots better than 44 percent from beyond the arc, contributing to his 21.4 points a game. But more importantly, Blizzard and the Seahawks have played the first-round underdog before and emerged victorious.

Last year, the 13th-seeded Seahawks got 18 points apiece from Blizzard and current teammate Craig Callahan in a 93-89 overtime first-round upset of Southern California. The resilient Seahawks narrowly survived after letting a 19-point lead slip away, and they advanced to the second round where they lost to eventual runner-up Indiana 76-66.

"Nobody ever really gave us a shot," junior Joel Justus said of the win. "Everyone said that USC was going to be the team to give Duke a run for their money. We just kept hearing USC, USC, USC. We weren't really mad about that … we can just control how we approach the game."

UNC Wilmington has even seen Nashville before in this setting, when as a No. 15 seed it lost to Cincinnati 64-47 at Gaylord Entertainment Center in the 2000 tournament's first round. Blizzard, then the CAA's freshman of the year, had just five points in the loss.

"We had confidence from 2000 into last year. I think in 2000 we were just happy to be there, and in 2002 we weren't," Brownell said. "We felt like we could handle the press better. Last year we handled it and got open shots and knocked them down. We've been in enough big games now where we feel like we belong."

That might demand a little extra attention from sixth-seeded Maryland, who barely defeated another CAA team, George Mason, 83-80 in the 2001 first round, and the Seahawks expect that.

"I think circumstances were different last year where a team sort of looked past us," Callahan said. "I'm sure Maryland won't do that."

Blizzard might be the chief threat for the Seahawks, but he'll have the services of Callahan, a fellow senior who also will play in his third NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-8 Callahan, whose 1,182 career points rank him eighth in school history, averages more than 16 points and seven rebounds this season.

UNC Wilmington, which starts three guards, also gets output from 6-foot-2 Tim Burnette (11.0 points) and 6-foot-3 all-rookie team selection John Goldsberry. Junior Anthony Terrell (7.3 points) rounds out a starting five that centers its offense around a man whom the UNC Wilmington sports information department has tabbed the "Perfect Storm."

"We know UNC Wilmington is a very good basketball team. They won their tournament and I've seen them on TV a few times," Maryland guard Drew Nicholas said. "We know we have to be prepared to play."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide