Maryland on to Final Four

By John Kekis Associated Press Published:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. _ Maryland is getting this Final Four thing figured out.

After a struggle that featured eight ties and seven lead changes in the final 13 minutes, the top-seeded Terrapins rallied in the final four minutes to beat No. 2 seed Connecticut 90-82 in the East regional final Sunday.

The Terps are headed back to the Final Four for the second straight year, but for only the second time in school history.

"Last year, we came close," said Juan Dixon, who scored 27 points. "This year we lost a tough game in the ACC Tournament to North Carolina State and had to be focused. One loss here and you're done."

After Caron Butler hit two free throws to give UConn a 77-74 lead with 4:07 left, Maryland (30-4) did not miss a shot the rest of the game.

Dixon hit a 3-pointer and two free throws, Lonny Baxter converted a layup and four free throws to finish with a season-high 29 points, and Steve Blake hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put UConn (27-7) down 86-80.

And out.

"It's real hard, but it's history now," said Butler, who scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half to keep the Huskies in the game. "The players have to realize we did a great job and played our hearts out. We lost the game, but that shouldn't take anything away from what we accomplished this season."

The experience of last year, when Maryland lost to eventual champion Duke in the national semifinals, and the Terps' senior leaders _ Dixon and Baxter _ loomed large on this night.

"We have tough guys. We didn't think we would lose this game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "When you get to this point, maybe it does help to have been there before. We're going back. We want to do something this year."

And the Terps can thank Blake, a junior who struggled all game, for that chance. Leading 83-80 with 34 seconds left, Williams called a timeout with only 14 ticks remaining on the shot clock and barked instructions to get the ball to Dixon, an All-American.

Blake had other ideas and announced he would take care of things. When play resumed, he cautiously made his way into UConn territory, patiently looked around, then broke the Huskies' spirit with only four seconds left on the shot clock, hitting his only basket of the game.

"That shot was the biggest one I could hit for this team," said Blake, who had six assists and no turnovers. "At the last timeout, I told the guys to look for me. I was just kind of free-lancing. I knew if I hit the shot, it would be tough for them. I just got a good look as the shot clock was winding down."

UConn's Tony Robertson was the victim on defense, getting fooled just to the right of the top of the key.

"I was guarding him and he gave me a pump fake and I bit on it," said Robertson, who finished with 15 points. "He was kind of off balance and I tried to put my hand up. He just made a great shot."

In the second half, neither team led by more than three points from 14:22 until Maryland went up 83-79 with 74 seconds left on two free throws by Baxter.

"It's hard when the game is back and forth like that," UConn forward Johnnie Selvie said. "Every time we would get the lead, they always answered, and that's what good teams do. Every time they got the lead, we answered. It was just two very good teams going to war."

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