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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Matchup Has Air of Familiarity

West Regional: Many Maryland, Georgetown players grew up together, so this is for neighborhood bragging rights.

March 22, 2001|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is the neighborhood battle.

Third-seeded Maryland versus 10th-seeded Georgetown. Juan Dixon versus Kevin Braswell. Lonny Baxter versus Mike Sweetney. Terence Morris versus Nathaniel Burton. Kids who have grown up together, hooped it up on the playground, been teammates in Amateur Athletic Union ball, stayed friends for life.

That's the first part of Thursday's first NCAA West Regional semifinal at the Arrowhead Pond. Maryland (23-10) and Georgetown (25-7) are located 15 miles apart and have played each other twice since 1980.

Maryland guard Dixon, forward Morris, center Baxter; Georgetown guards Braswell and Burton, forward Sweetney--all were born and raised in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area.

They have come 3,000 miles to trash-talk their buddies, to play for bragging rights on cement courts in the muggy heat of a mid-Atlantic summer three months from now.

As Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick says, "Whatever scouting report we have is going to be negated by Maryland's familiarity with us. We're both familiar with each other."

There's a lot more going on here, though, than friends not letting friends get to the Elite Eight.

The Terrapins, for example, are averaging 85.5 points a game. Dixon, who has been best friends with Braswell since the sixth grade, is skinny and quivery and never able to settle down. Keeping up with Dixon, trying to stop him from getting hot from the three-point line only to discover he has driven past you for a layup because his first step is so quick, how do you stop that?

Or maybe it's the burly, aggressive Baxter, who can throw a hip and knock down three guys, leaving him with plenty of room to dunk. That's not so easy to defend.

Sometimes it's impossible to figure out Morris. The enigmatic senior, who is 6 feet 9 and has speed and a nice shooting touch, turned down a chance to be a high draft pick in the NBA last season so he could complete his senior season. His scoring and rebounding totals have dropped this season. His game seems to depend on his mood.

"We just have to make sure to get [Morris] hyped," Dixon says.

If Morris' mood is properly aggressive, the Maryland offense is properly confounding. It wasn't in the first round against undermanned George Mason and the Patriots nearly upset the Terrapins. In the second round against Georgia State, Morris was active and involved and the Panthers were crushed.

He sounded properly aggressive Wednesday.

"I don't think," he said, "that the Georgetown defense can stop us. We are taller and quicker and we're pretty tough to stop."

But the Hoya defense has stopped people this year. It is a pressing, trapping, lively, living thing. Georgetown kids defend with their hands, their legs, with their heads, their hearts.

"It all starts with defense," Braswell says. "We need to get some turnovers, cause some confusion."

In the middle is 7-0 center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje, a studious senior from Cameroon who is looking forward to becoming a doctor, but not until he knocks some people around in the NBA. Behind him are 6-11 Lee Scruggs and 6-11 Wesley Wilson.

"We're going to pick up our defense full court and we're going to change defenses," Esherick says. "And hopefully we'll find one which works. They're averaging nearly 86 points a game, and, if we don't hold them to well under their average . . . game, we're in trouble."

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