- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The champion is not surrendering its crown easily.
Maryland advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in 10 years yesterday, embarrassing third-seeded Xavier 77-64 before 17,484 in a second-round South Region game at Gaylord Entertainment Center. Maryland will play No.7 seed Michigan State, an upset winner over Florida, Friday in San Antonio.
"A lot of people use the term 'dangerous team,'" guard Drew Nicholas said. "I think we're one of those teams."
Said guard Steve Blake: "We can beat anybody. We're very confident."
Maryland (21-9) has rebounded from two losses before the NCAA tournament that made the sixth-seeded Terrapins suspect to even survive a first-round game. Now Maryland is within two victories of reaching its third straight Final Four. Players seemed elated to prove they're not merely the leftovers from last year's national champions.
"A lot of people didn't think we'd make the tournament," Blake said. "It feels good to put all those doubters in the right spot."
Continuing the momentum from Nicholas' game-winning 3-pointer that beat UNC Wilmington 75-73 on Friday, Maryland sprinted to a 21-9 lead over Xavier (26-6). The Terps showed a swagger that never wavered even during a late Xavier run. Coach Gary Williams said avoiding the first-round upset toughened the Terps.
"Once you get past that first game, the real teams show up," he said. "We played like that during the year at times, not all the time, but at times. We're not an easy out. Nobody is just going to blow us out."
Maryland's offense was seemingly unstoppable in converting 51.7 percent of its field goals, especially underneath when the Terps sliced apart the Musketeers defense with precision passing. Center Ryan Randle and Nicholas both scored 17 points while forward Jamar Smith added 12. Blake finished with nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
"We've been written off a couple times, but it never gets old coming back," Williams said. "You come into the tournament and haven't played well and people think you go down for one or two games and that will be it. We're still playing. That's what counts."
Maryland's bench was the difference, outscoring Xavier's reserves 23-0. The Terps went 10 deep yesterday as they did most of the season. That approach especially helped defend Xavier forward David West; while West finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, he was never a factor aside from a short-lived second-half run. Maryland rotated four players on West, leaving three Terps with four fouls, but Maryland still outrebounded the Musketeers 39-28 and limited Xavier to just six second-chance points.
"The game ball goes to the bench," Nicholas said.
Still, West fueled a 20-4 run with 11 points to bring Xavier within 58-53 with 8:24 remaining. The Terps went to an all-senior lineup, but the Musketeers were clearly revived and closed to 63-59 with 5:37 remaining.
"You knew they were making a run," Williams said. "We needed something to break the run, but I don't think our players ever thought they were going to lose the game."
Blake converted a 3-pointer to start an 8-2 spurt that included two baskets underneath by Smith for a 71-61 lead with 3:21 remaining.
"Xavier went from being so high to now they have to fight over again," Nicholas said. "It's hard to make runs like that."
Maryland led 45-28 at halftime despite using its reserves extensively to wear down Xavier, which largely stayed with its starting five. The Terps' backups even increased the lead at times.
Maryland used a 20-3 run for a 21-9 lead with 10:44 remaining in the first half that included four dunks and a layup. Maryland didn't even hit a medium-range shot during the span. Xavier could only sporadically counterpunch as West converted just 2-for-8 underneath.
"I think we shocked them the first half," Smith said.

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