- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

DENVER — One of the heroes in Maryland’s shaky victory over Texas-El Paso was Ekene Ibekwe. The slender freshman had four blocks — all in the second half — and was the defensive presence in limiting the Miners’ late run.

“Not many guys are 6-9 and have that quickness to the ball,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “It’s not how high you get up, it’s how quick you get to the ball. He’s one of those guys that gets to the ball quick.”

Ibekwe finished with five points and six rebounds along with his four rejections while playing 20 minutes. When the Terps endured a nearly five-minute scoring drought late in the game, the long-armed Californian swatted away three attempted layups. Two of them came against Omar Thomas, who continually burned the Terps in the lane before Ibekwe took control.

“I got him from behind,” Ibekwe said. “And I got him from the front.”

Ibekwe has evolved throughout the season, playing at least 13 minutes in each of the last five games. Although he is still developing offensive moves, he has become a defensive force.

“He is still figuring out how good he is,” Williams said. “He’s such a great guy. He’s one of our best students. He wants to learn. He’s like a sponge on the bench — he really pays attention.”

Ibekwe, whose parents moved to Los Angeles from Nigeria, is a major part of Maryland’s promising freshmen group, which also includes fellow big man Hassan Fofana and guard D.J. Strawberry.

“He is just learning how to leave his man and get the guy driving down the lane and trying to block a shot without giving up a layup,” Williams said. “In other words, it’s a timing thing where you can’t go too soon. Early in the year, he was going too soon. What he still does, he just fouls in certain situations as a reaction rather than stay under control. But I bet he has improved 30 or 40 percent during the year.”

Ibekwe took the performance in his first NCAA tournament game in stride.

“It was good,” the forward said. “I am just glad we are going to be one of the 32 teams left come Saturday. It’s counting down.”

Seeing orange

The last two national champions will meet tomorrow when fourth seed Maryland faces No. 5 Syracuse, which got 43 points from Gerry McNamara in a victory over BYU. Maryland point guard John Gilchrist gave an early scouting report on Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen:

“They have a guy [center Hakim] Warrick who is an incredible player. They have a lot of size. They have speed. They are smart. They are long in the 2-3 zone. McNamara hits a lot of shots. They have a lot of good players. They really have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle to be successful.”

Mike Grinnon is the only player left from Maryland’s 2002 title team.

Good morning, Denver

Maryland players received 7:30 a.m. wakeup calls for the 10:40 tip time. The Terps had the shortest turnaround of any team playing in the tournament, considering they beat Duke in overtime in the ACC tournament Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, N.C. It had been approximately three days, 20 hours and 40 minutes since Maryland first celebrated beating the Blue Devils, went home and then flew cross-country.

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