Archive for Monday, March 25, 2002

Terps, Huskies deliver

March 25, 2002

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— Maryland listened to Gary Williams diagramming the play to get a basket out of the timeout. There were 34 seconds left, the shot-clock down to 14, and a Maryland miss could leave Connecticut a chance to get overtime, to get between the Terps and a national championship obsession.

Williams had his eyes down, scribbling on his clipboard and telling point guard Steve Blake to find Juan Dixon off the screen, or deliver the ball inside to Lonny Baxter. The Carrier Dome pulsated, 29,252 hoarse voices screaming and suddenly Blake, the quiet, mild-mannered junior, screamed over everyone.

"I'M TAKING THE SHOT!" No one had ever heard Blake talk this way, but the Terps just nodded, returned to the floor and watched everything go terribly wrong on the inbounds pass.

There was confusion. The ball was passed into the wrong hands. Time was running out, Blake couldn't find Dixon and well, the hell with it. Blake promised, right? The long, arching three-point shot left his hands, fluttering high and dropping down into net, into NCAA Tournament history, into the Final Four.

"It was a fumbled sort of play," UConn coach Jim Calhoun sighed. "It won them the basketball game."

One of the most brilliant games that college basketball's offered for a long, long time.

Maryland's 90-82 victory over UConn Sunday was one of those games college basketball doesn't deliver much anymore. Great coaches, great players, great shots upon great shots. Across the sports, the college talent has dropped so far, kids coming and going to the pros, and sometimes people are too quick to confuse close and dramatic finishes with great games.

This was genuine greatness, two hours of pure, unadulterated theater.

"I don't know if Gary wants to do it, but I'd play them again tomorrow," Calhoun said.

Besides Williams, who wouldn't want to see it again? These were the heavyweights, absorbing crushing shots just to deliver the next one themselves.

Who knows what happens if Blake's shot bounces off the rim?

For so long, Maryland's was the cursed and catastrophic college basketball program. For years, they were always second to Duke and North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference, second in metropolitan Washington to Georgetown. Lefty Driesell had great players and great teams, but they never made the Final Four. They sure never won a national championship.

For the first time this March, it seemed, the Terrapins were smiling. They were laughing. Now, they found the polite, mild-mannered Steve Blake on the Carrier Dome floor and they thanked him again, too. He never let UConn get the final shot Sunday, never let them stop this freight train to Atlanta. Sometimes, the best games don't end at the buzzer. Sometimes, it just ends with a skinny kid screaming, "I'M TAKING THE SHOT," and never letting someone else get the final word.

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