Are you experienced?
Maryland certainly was, as Kansas found outPosted: Saturday March 30, 2002 10:18 PM
By John Donovan and Albert Lin, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- The Maryland Terrapins have now seen both sides of the coin in the Final Four: blowing a big lead (as they did last year to Duke) and overcoming one (as they did Saturday against Kansas). That they also then held off the Jayhawks' late surge further proves that in this matchup, experience made all the difference.
"The thing we have as a team this year is courage," coach Gary Williams said. "This team has never gone away in any tough situation."
How else to explain the Terps falling behind 13-2 to open the game, then rallying to go up seven by halftime? Or Juan Dixon, the fifth-year senior, exploding for 33 points? Or Maryland getting virtually no contribution from All-America center Lonny Baxter, yet still opening up a 20-point lead?
"That's their job, to get us out of that situation," Williams said of his veterans.
The Terps start three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. They bring two juniors and a junior-college transfer off the bench. In contrast, Kansas starts three juniors, one senior and one freshman. Significantly, the two primary Jayhawks reserves are both first-year players.
Maryland always had an answer, no matter what the circumstances. And Kansas couldn't figure out another way when it struggled against the Terps' defense.
The Jayhawks buckled under the pressure with 19.8 seconds left in the game when, after pulling to within 92-88, several players signalled for a timeout the team didn't have.
"I was about as proud of my team as I've ever been in my life," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "But we couldn't quite get over the hump."
On top of simple playing experience, the Terps also had another advantage: They reached the Final Four last year. Going through the agony of blowing a huge lead to Duke helped them keep their composure when they fell down early and when Kansas rallied late.
"I've been saying that the whole week," Dixon said. "If we ever got in that position again where we were up 22 points, we were going to find a way to pull the game out. We did. It's just our experience. We grew a lot over the last year or so."
The much-discussed and ridiculously over-photographed left ankle of Indiana's Tom Coverdale was all the pre-game buzz before Game 1 on Saturday night. It turned out to be a factor -- the junior guard scored only three points on 1-for-5 shooting -- but it didn't hurt the Hoosiers in the end.
Coverdale, who re-sprained the ankle last week in Indiana's win over Kent State, played 29 minutes Saturday against Oklahoma, which is a lot longer than many folks expected.
In Monday's championship game against Maryland, some want him to go even longer. And, of course, be more of a factor.
"We expect Tom to be a day and a half more healthier," said -- more healthier? -- said teammate Dane Fife. "One of the things about Tom is he's such a tough kid. His main problem really wasn't his ankle tonight. His main problem was that he hadn't run much in a week or so."
Said junior Kyle Hornsby: "I thought that Coverdale was about 75 to 80 percent tonight he was missing a lot of his explosiveness.
Indiana had to go with Donald Perry off the bench when Coverdale started turning the ball over too much -- he had a game-high five of them. But it's all forgotten now.
The Hoosiers will not practice Sunday, though Coverdale figures to get plenty of treatment for the sore ankle.
No Baxter? No problem
When Baxter picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game, Kansas players had to be licking their chops. After all, the 6-foot-8, 265-pounder's absence would mean more room in the paint for the Jayhawks' Drew Gooden and Nick Collison. At least theoretically.
On the floor, things didn't quite work out that way. Instead, starting power forward Chris Wilcox and backup post players Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle combined for an impressive 33 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. They also caused Gooden to get into foul trouble early in the second half, negating any advantage the Jayhawks might have had.
"[Wilcox's] ability to get off the floor quick with Collison and Gooden obviously was advantage to us," Williams said. "Tahj Holden, I don't think anyone could have played better coming in, in Lonny Baxter's foul situation."
Baxter, who finished with four points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes, doesn't plan a repeat performance Monday night. He intends to end his career with a bang.
"I don't think I'll forget last year until we finally win a national championship," he said.
As American as apple pie
As he does every year around this time, Kansas coach Williams was moved to tears when discussing the end of Kansas' season. "This was really a good basketball team," he said. "This was a basketball team that, boy, gave me a lot of fun. And even losing, feeling like this right now -- some people might not understand that. That's their problem.
"It doesn't hurt one iota, doesn't hurt one ounce for Roy Williams in any record or championship. It just hurts because I'm not going to get the chance to coach them anymore."
Quality, not quantity
For nearly three years, he has offered tantalizing glimpses. Saturday night, George Leach showed America what he can do. Though the Indiana redshirt sophomore center only played six first-half minutes, what a six minutes it was.
He emphatically swatted Oklahoma's Daryan Selvy. He then caused Selvy to change his shot on a drive. He ran the floor and took a feed from Tom Coverdale for a jam. He grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul. He swatted Sooner Jozsef Szendrei.
It was a lot of excitement from someone who has played 416 minutes in his entire career.
"We've been on him a lot because we know what kind of potential he has," Fife said.
The Price is wrong
Oklahoma's leading scorer, junior guard Hollis Price, had a nightmare of a game. He spent much of the evening shadowed by Indiana's Fife, and even when Price had open looks he wasn't burying them.
He finished with six points on 1-for-11 shooting, the lone field goal coming 34 minutes, 15 seconds into the game.
"Fife did a good job. He was so physical," the slender, 165-pound Price said. "I usually get around that, but tonight I just didn't overcome it."
Who needs a coach?
Here's another reason to root for Indiana coach Mike Davis, besides the shadow-of-Bob-Knight thing.
After the Hoosiers' big upset of Oklahoma -- a team many figured should have been a No. 1 seed in the tournament -- Davis played humble, something a lot of coaches just can't pull off.
"In basketball, coaches get too much credit. I mean, I've proved that this year," he said. "I mean, here I am, a second-year coach, no experience, and sometimes I have no idea what's going on on the court. I mean no idea."
That brought smiles throughout the hardened media throng at the post-game press conference. Smiling biggest, maybe, was former college coach and Kentucky athletics director C.M. Newton, who was instrumental in getting Davis his job at Indiana.
Gary Williams cracks a joke!
As he's begun to show in bits and pieces, ultra-intense Maryland coach Williams is not without a sense of humor. When asked to comment on the performance of sophomore Wilcox -- who is expected to turn pro after the season -- he opened with: "Chris Wilcox is going to be a great junior for us next year."
Speaking of the NBA ...
Kansas junior forward Gooden had this to say about speculation that he will turn pro and become a likely top-10 pick: "It will be a tough decision. No one wants their career to end like this. I'll have to look at it and deal with it and make a decision later."
Too much to overcome
Though on paper it would appear to hurt them, once again Oklahoma did not lose ground when its big men, Jabahri Brown and Aaron McGhee, were in foul trouble.
Brown picked up three quick fouls and played just five minutes in the first half, while McGhee did a lot of damage despite his situation. The Sooners made a couple runs with a smaller lineup of McGhee, Price and three midsize wings -- starter Ebi Ere and reserves Daryan Selvy and Jason Detrick.
Ere, in particular, seemed to do what he wanted against the Hoosiers, hitting five of his first six shots and finishing with 15 points. Selvy showed his versatility by guarding Jared Jeffries man-to-man when he first checked in and then switching to the top of Oklahoma's zone and harrassing the point guard. Detrick seemed to infuse the lineup with energy whenever he was on the floor.
However, Indiana always seemed to find a way to neutralize the Sooners' athleticism. And as Indiana coach Davis pointed out, Oklahoma only has three scorers -- Price, McGhee and Ere. Price was never a factor, and once McGhee fouled out the Sooners were sunk.
"We've stepped up every other time our big guys got in foul trouble," said starting point guard Quannas White, who did not score. "We just didn't step up today in one of the biggest games."
The winner of a No. 1 seed vs. No. 1 seed semifinal game -- that would be Maryland, which beat top-ranked Kansas in Saturday's second game -- is just 3-7 in the championship game. Five times since 1983, that No. 1 seed has lost to a lower seed in the final. Indiana, by the way, is a No. 5 seed
Indiana is 4-0 lifetime vs. Maryland
Maryland's win was the fifth over a Top 10 school for the Terps this year and the ninth over a Top 25 team, both school records
Kansas' Jeff Boschee, on some of the Jayhawks' problems: "Before the game, we were very excited and I thought it might have caused us to play stupid during parts of the game." Yeah, that and Maryland
And, finally, Maryland point guard Steve Blake, on whether he suffered a case of déjà vu when the Terps' 20-point lead started to evaporate against Kansas (the Terps, remember, blew a 22-point lead on Duke last year): "It passed through my head. But that made me mad so I went out and played harder."