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Archive for Friday, March 29, 2002

Kansas-Maryland matchup among most appealing

March 29, 2002

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— Experts say Kansas-Maryland looms as one of the most evenly matched NCAA Tournament games in recent memory.

With good reason.

 The Terrapins, led by well-respected, veteran coach Gary Williams, enter Saturday night's Final Four semifinal with a 30-4 record and ACC championship.

 The Jayhawks, led by well-respected, veteran coach Roy Williams, enter with a 33-3 mark and Big 12 championship.

Those trying to distinguish  to separate the only top-seeded teams remaining in the tournament  deem the Jayhawks and their 91.0 points per game average a bit more explosive than the Terrapins and their 85.3 points per game.

Those giving Maryland the edge point to the Terps' experience.

Maryland returns three seniors  Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton  who advanced to the Final Four before losing to Duke in the national semifinals a year ago.

"Our seniors did a tremendous job this year, because going to the Final Four last year only made them work harder," Maryland coach Williams said. "They've done a great job with the other players, trying to get them to a level we can play at."

The seniors are focused.

"It's my last time doing this and I'm going to do whatever it takes to win," insists the 6-foot-3, 164-pound Dixon, who averages 20.1 points and 4.6 rebounds entering the 7:47 p.m. contest at the Georgia Dome.

Anything it takes is the motto, agrees Mouton, a 6-6, 215-pounder.

"This year's team is much more mature than last year's," Mouton, a Tulane transfer, indicated. "I think that's why we are in the situation we are in."

The Terps, who lost to Arizona in their opener at the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic in New York, never lost faith. Their only other losses have been to Duke, Oklahoma and N.C. State in the finals of the ACC Tournament.

"I think we have a very good chance to win a national championship," said UM junior reserve Drew Nicholas, who averages 7.1 points a game. "I wouldn't consider us favorites, but we are content. We have as good a shot as anybody."

UM coach Williams was asked if his team is too confident entering the Final Four. Some of his players' comments have been taken by others as a bit brash.

"I think you approach each week (of the tournament) that if you lose you go home," Williams said. "You have to be optimistic. I don't think our guys are saying anything different from anybody else. There's nothing wrong with feeling you can win the game."

He isn't surprised his team remained focused after losing to N.C. State in the ACC tourney finals.

"To me the two and a half months you spend doing that (winning league title) is more important than the conference tournament," Williams said. "The conference tournament is big for fans. If you lose, you forget it quick. It actually may have helped us. It pointed out some things we needed to work on to get in the NCAA Tournament."

To move to the NCAA tourney finals, Maryland will have to find a way to stop All-American Drew Gooden.

"He is just a great player," Williams said. "You don't see many people that big (6-10) that have the mobility he has. He can shoot, has great timing on the backboards. He is one of those versatile players that can get a rebound, dribble it out, make a pass, set a screen go for a lob. He's a problem trying to match up."

Maryland counters with All-American Dixon, the only player in NCAA history to have at least 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 three-pointers. Dixon scored 27 points, including two baskets down the stretch, and Baxter had 29, in the regional final victory over UConn.

"People will call us great if we win the national title, and possibly disappointing if we don't," Dixon said. "All the flattery, all the headlines and all the attention are nice, but they don't matter as much as we matter to each other.

"Whether we win or not will not be because of lack of effort. We know how much we want to win. We care for each other, and we want to win for each other. We know this is a great team. But to be called national champions would truly be special."

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