The chosen Juan
When the time came for a shot, Terps turn to their manPosted: Tuesday April 02, 2002 2:09 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 02, 2002 3:15 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- Did anyone, really, ever have any doubts? When Monday night's NCAA title game seemed to be slipping away and Maryland was looking for someone, anyone, to beat away pesky Indiana, was there ever any doubt who would pull them through?
Well, if there was, there shouldn't have been.
Senior Juan Dixon, the steadiest hand and the steadiest influence throughout this NCAA tournament, gave the Terrapins exactly what they needed Monday night, waiting until exactly the right time to do it. And now Maryland has the first NCAA basketball championship in its history.
Dixon in the clutch. Maryland with the title. In retrospect, this is one we could have written last week.
"To try to guard him one-on-one is a job for anybody," Indiana guard Kyle Hornsby said after Maryland slammed the Hoosiers 64-52 at the Georgia Dome. "If there's anyone in the country who can do it, I'd say it was Dane Fife."
Yes, Fife, the Hoosiers' defensive stopper, was the one who was supposed to stop Dixon. He had done the job on the other team's best shooter all year long, most notably on Oklahoma's Hollis Price in Saturday's semifinal game. Price scored only six points on 1-for-11 shooting.
And, yes, Fife actually did a pretty good job on his man Monday. Dixon, named Most Outstanding Player, scored only 18 points, more than nine points under his tournament average.
But, unfortunately for the Hoosiers and unfortunately for Fife, the shots Dixon made were absolute killers.
"He's a great player. He's definitely [going to be] in the pros," a drained Fife said in the Indiana locker room afterward. "He has the ability to score at will, and that's going to make him a lot of money."
Indiana, which had shocked No. 1 Duke earlier in the tournament, had fought its way out of a 12-point first-half hole and grabbed its first lead of the game when Jared Jeffries took a pass from Fife and laid it in with 9:52 left in the game. Thanks to Dixon, that 42-40 lead would be the Hoosiers' only lead of the game. Eight seconds later, a dash down the court by Maryland point guard Steve Blake and a clutch shot by Dixon stunned the Hoosiers.
The play was nothing special, really. The Hoosiers pressed, so Blake zipped past his man into the lane, forcing Fife to leave Dixon to help out on Blake. When Blake saw it, he kicked the ball out to Dixon, who nailed the open 3-pointer from the left wing to put Maryland up 43-42.
"That was probably my mistake," Fife said. "I figured letting him have a [chance at a] 3-pointer was better than giving him a layup. In the second half, we definitely wanted to make Juan Dixon a 2-point player."
Dixon had made all four of his shots in the first half, but he had missed his first two in the second. From the time in the first half until he drained the 3-pointer in the second, he went more than 20 minutes without making a shot.
Until the Juan.
"Not every big scorer wants to take those shots. Juan has never backed away from a shot in that situation," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "You know, you can't worry about what happens if you miss.
"We had to counter right there. I thought the crowd was starting to get into it from Indiana. We needed something to happen big. Juan just did what he did all year for us."
Indiana scrapped back, trimming Maryland's lead to 47-46 with 8:32 left in the game. Just 21 seconds later, though, Dixon did it again. He dropped in a leaning, off-balance jumper from almost the same spot on the floor to put Maryland up by three points.
"That one," Fife said, shaking his head. "He swung it. He swung things in his direction. I was right in his stuff."
Afterward, in front of hundreds of media members, championship cap slung low on his head and one of the Dome's nets draped around his neck, Dixon looked for the words to describe his night.
His story of overcoming personal tragedy -- his parents, both drug addicts, died while he was in high school from complications from AIDS -- was this tournament's most touching. Monday was simply another amazing chapter.
"I grew up a lot in college," said Dixon, who is on schedule to earn his degree this year. "I've grown so much. I developed as a person, as a basketball player.
"A lot of people back home counted me out, didn't give me a chance. I went out here and I got better each year, led my team to the national championship. It's a great feeling, man. I'm speechless."
With that, he jumped into a cart with an NCAA official to be whisked away to more interviews. It was the first time all night -- all tournament, really -- he wasn't in the driver's seat.