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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | WEST AT BOISE, IDAHO

Driesell Gets Matchup With Maryland

March 16, 2001|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOISE, Idaho — It almost didn't happen, this eagerly awaited matchup between Lefty Driesell, the formerly disgraced, formerly beloved Maryland coach and his former team, the Terrapins.

Maryland almost blew it.

Driesell's Georgia State team, the one that had only three winning seasons in 35 years before he arrived four years ago, upset sixth-seeded Wisconsin, 50-49, in the NCAA West Regional Thursday at the Pavilion. Maryland, where Driesell coached for 17 years before being forced to resign in 1986 in the wake of the scandal surrounding the death of Len Bias, escaped an even bigger upset by beating 14th-seeded George Mason, 83-80.

The No. 11-seeded Panthers are 29-4 and Driesell keeps telling everybody they deserved better. After all, he says, his team has a better record than Duke, Illinois and Michigan State.

"So we should be seeded No. 1, right?" Driesell says.

Georgia State trailed Wisconsin by 16 points in the first half. Against the slow-it-down Badgers, that's the same as being behind by 32, according to Driesell's math. The Badgers, who made it to the Final Four a year ago, were ahead by 11 at halftime and by five with a minute to play.

"Ah, that's nothing," Driesell said.

It's nothing when you get a four-point play. With 48 seconds left and Wisconsin leading, 49-44, sophomore guard Darryl Cooper, a transfer from Louisiana State, flung up a 30-foot shot and was fouled. It was the shot he wanted, Cooper insisted. The foul, which left Wisconsin guard Roy Boone in tears, was a mistake. The free throw was no problem. The score suddenly was 49-48.

"The guy hit my hand right after I let the shot go," Cooper said. "I knew the shot was good. I couldn't believe I got the foul."

Thirty seconds later, Cooper did even better. He stole the ball from Wisconsin's Travon Davis, then passed to Kevin Morris, Driesell's first recruit at Georgia State. Morris lifted a high, arching baseline jumper that settled softly through the nets.

With 12 seconds left, Georgia State was ahead, 50-49, and Wisconsin forward Mark Vershaw, a senior who shoots 73% from the foul line, missed two free throws with 3.2 seconds left.

"This is the biggest win of my career," Driesell said.

Then Driesell sat in the press section and watched the Terrapins trail most of the game.

And with 28.4 seconds left, George Mason had the ball. The Terrapins had a one-point lead finally, 81-80, but Coach Gary Williams had a sick look on his face. Driesell had no expression at all, though his hands were twisted.

George Mason, winner of the Colonial Athletic Assn. title, was led by a 30-year-old Gulf War veteran named George Evans.

Thursday he almost became a hero.

Evans was dominating the Terrapins inside. He made 10 of 15 shots and had 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Evans was everywhere, except within range of an impossible pass with six seconds left.

The Patriots had used 20 of those last 28 seconds passing around the perimeter. Twice guards had passed up open 18-foot shots. Then point guard Tremaine Price tried to skid a low pass into the post. Evans dived for it, but the ball went out of bounds.

Maryland's Juan Dixon made two free throws with 4.9 seconds left to put the game away.

Georgetown 63, Arkansas 61--Nathaniel Burton was supposed to pass the ball to Kenny Braswell for the Hoyas' last shot. Burton didn't.

Burton isn't supposed to be able to go to his left and he certainly isn't supposed to be able to shoot with his left hand. Burton did.

And because Burton didn't pass and did go left, No. 10-seeded Georgetown (24-7) upset No. 7-seeded Arkansas.

But the score wasn't final until officials reviewed Burton's game-winning shot for nearly 10 minutes.

The Hoyas' final possession began with 35.8 seconds left. It ended with somewhere less than a second but more than eight-tenths when Burton let go of his shot, a running, left-handed layup.

A senior who averages 4.9 points, ninth-best for the Hoyas, Burton had worked hard all summer on going to his left.

That final possession seemed like an eternity to Hoya Coach Craig Esherick as Braswell kept dribbling around the perimeter.

Finally, with about six seconds left, Burton headed for the basket. All at once, it seemed, the ball left Burton's hand, the shot-clock horn went off, the ball went through the basket and the game-clock horn went off.

Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson kept asking the officials about a shot-clock violation. Braswell kept yelling at the officials, "Game over, game over." Esherick kept yelling at Braswell to shut up. Burton didn't think he beat the shot clock. "But I was wrong," Burton said.

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