MARYLAND 97, KANSAS 88: The Terps surge ahead in the second half and repel a rally to reach their first final.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002
ATLANTA -- Maryland's Juan Dixon hadn't forgotten his team's first Final Four appearance last year, and that memory, bitterly disappointing as it was, served him well Saturday against Kansas.
"I think we learned a lot from that game last year," Dixon said, referring to the Terrapins squandering a 22-point first-half lead and losing to eventual champion Duke. "If we got into that position again, we were going to find a way to pull the game out. We did."
Not only did the Terps have to overcome an 11-point first-half deficit, they had to repel a rally to protect what at one point was a 20-point second-half lead before escaping with a 97-88 win at the Georgia Dome. They face Indiana in Monday's championship game in their first trip to the final.
"The thing we have as a team this year is courage," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "This team has never gone away in any tough situation."
Unlike last year, it began tough.
The Jayhawks (33-4) jumped out to a 13-2 lead less than four minutes into the game that matched a pair of top seeds. It was the 11th time two No. 1 seeds met in a semifinal.
With Terps senior center Lonny Baxter, the most outstanding player of the East Region, on the bench with two fouls, Dixon took control in the first half. He scored 19 of his game-high 33 in the half as the Terps (31-4) took a 44-37 lead.
"We were struggling at the time and I just wanted to be aggressive," the senior All-America guard said. "I just took it upon myself to try to hit some big shots."
The Terps opened a nine-point lead in the opening moments of the second half, but Baxter and junior point guard Steve Blake picked up their third fouls in an 18-second span.
With them out, the Jayhawks cut the deficit to 52-50 on a short hook shot by junior forward Nick Collison, who finished with a team-high 21 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Maryland reserves -- junior forward Ryan Randle and junior guard Drew Nicholas -- sparked an 8-2 run for a 60-52 lead, but Kansas senior guard Jeff Boschee answered with a 3-pointer to keep his team close.
Blake hit a 3-pointer, Dixon followed with a jumper in the lane and junior forward Tahj Holden added a three-point play and an off-balance baseline shot for a 70-55 lead. The Terps poured it on, and a 3-pointer by Dixon pushed the lead to 83-63 with 6:10 left.
Game over, right?
"I was about as proud of my team as I've ever been," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, who has been called the best coach never to have won a championship. "They kept believing they could still get it done, and they made a fantastic comeback."
The Jayhawks outscored Maryland 19-4 over the next four minutes and trailed 87-82 when Boschee hit another 3-pointer with 2:05 left. Dixon missed a 3-pointer, but after a turnover he answered with a key baseline jumper.
"The opportunity was there for me to take it to the basket, and I made the shot," he said. "I missed the 3 before that so I definitely wanted to come back and make a play."
"Juan Dixon was sensational," said a tearful Roy Williams, emotional not that his Jayhawks lost but that he won't get a chance to coach the group again.
Boschee followed with his fifth 3-pointer, but Dixon hit two free throws and, after a 3-pointer by junior forward Drew Gooden, added two more free throws to seal the win.
"Juan Dixon, he's been there all year, really the last three years, for us," Gary Williams said. "Big games, big plays, big situations, he's been able to do that."
Lessons he learned well.