Seniors Lead The Way To Atlanta; Maryland Defeats UConn, 90-82
March 24, 2002
G. Williams Postgame Audio (On dealing with this year's high expectations)
By JIM O'CONNELL
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Back and forth, back and forth - until Steve Blake spoke up and came through.
Pulled from a tight East Regional final because of poor defense, and without a point, the junior guard still wanted a shot.
With 25 second left Sunday and the shot clock nearing zero, Blake sank a 3-pointer for his first bucket of the game, leading top-seeded Maryland to a 90-82 victory over Connecticut and a second straight trip to the Final Four.
"That shot was the biggest one I could hit for this team," said Blake, who missed his only two attempts until then. "At the last timeout, I told the guys to look for me. I was just kind of freelancing. I knew if I hit the shot it would be tough for them. I just got a good look as the shot clock was winding down."
That put Maryland up 86-80 and was the clinching blow in a tremendous display of basket-for-basket play. There were eight ties and seven lead changes in the final 13 minutes.
"It's hard when the game is back and forth like that," UConn forward Johnnie Selvie said.
"Every time we would get the lead, they always answered, and that's what good teams do. Every time they got the lead, we answered. It was just two very good teams going to war."
Lonny Baxter had a season-high 29 points, and Dixon scored 27 for Maryland (30-4), which reached the 30-victory mark for the first time.
Second-seeded UConn stayed in the game thanks to sophomore Caron Butler, who had 26 of his 32 points during a second half in which neither team lead by more than three points from the 14-minute mark until the final 36 seconds.
"We have tough guys. We didn't think we would lose this game," Williams said.
"We're going back. We want to do something this year."
Maryland, which lost to eventual national champion Duke in last year's Final Four, will play another No. 1 seed, Kansas, on Saturday in Atlanta. The Jayhawks beat Oregon 104-86 in the Midwest Regional final.
Just as there was no wild on-court celebration after their regional semifinal win over Kentucky, the Terrapins were again matter of fact after beating Connecticut (27-7).
For a while.
Williams arrived at the postgame news conference wearing a Maryland warmup outfit, because his suit and tie were soaked during the postgame celebration.
"Our guys were accused of not being very emotional after Kentucky," Williams said. "They were very emotional in our locker room. That's why I'm wearing this attire."
Maryland scored the final eight points of the first half to take a 44-37 lead - UConn's biggest deficit of the tourney to that juncture - but Butler brought the Huskies back.
"Caron Butler carried that team in the second half, but we stayed strong and focused," Dixon said. "We didn't want this to be our last game. We strapped down on defense when we had to and made free throws."
Baxter, the regional's Most Outstanding Player, was 7-for-12 from the field, 15-for-18 from the free throw line and grabbed nine rebounds. He had 24 points and 10 rebounds in the teams' first meeting this season, a 77-65 Maryland victory on Dec. 3.
"I just stepped up to the line and tried to make every free throw I took," Baxter said. "We just know how to win and we stayed with it to the end."
The Huskies, who had won 12 games in a row, kept this one as close as a game can be.
Butler, who had a career-high 34 points in last Sunday's second-round victory over North Carolina State, only played 13 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
He hit his first three 3-point attempts in the second half, the last of which gave the Huskies a 54-53 lead with 13:11 left and set up the wild ending.
"We needed someone else to make a play besides Caron," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "The kids were standing around watching him, waiting for him to make a play."
Baxter gave Maryland the lead for good with a hook shot that made it 81-79 with 2:08 left.
Connecticut was within 83-80 when Blake became the hero.
The point guard was having a poor game and was banished to the bench by Williams with about 5 minutes remaining.
Maryland took a timeout with 34 seconds left on the game clock and 14 on the shot clock. Blake wound up with the ball and his 3-pointer went through.
After a UConn miss, Blake added two free throws for an 88-80 lead.
Chris Wilcox added 13 points for Maryland, which shot 50.9 percent (27-for-53) from the field and was 31-for-35 on free throws. The Terrapins were the first team this season to shoot better than 50 percent against the Huskies.
A year ago, Maryland made the first Final Four appearance in school history. Now the Terps head back having won 17 of 18 games, the only loss coming to North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals.