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NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

Maryland Tries to Separate Hoosier Fact From Fiction

Men: Terrapins say they won't let Indiana's filmlike path to title game lull them into false security.

April 01, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Indiana forward Jarrad Odle had a DVD of the movie "Hoosiers" in his gym bag Sunday.

Guard Kyle Hornsby used to watch the video before every high school game, and guard Dane Fife says he still likes to walk into an empty gym and yell "Hickory!" for fictional Hickory High, the tiny school that won Indiana's state high school championship in the film.

Hard to fathom, but the school that has won five national championships--more than any other school except UCLA and Kentucky--is one of the NCAA tournament's great underdogs tonight in the national championship game against Maryland at the Georgia Dome.

Maryland (31-4) has never won an NCAA title despite a history that includes such players as John Lucas, Len Bias, Joe Smith and Steve Francis. But the Terrapins are a top-seeded team that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll this season.

They're back in the Final Four for the second consecutive year--this time with a senior-dominated team and the tournament's top scorer, guard Juan Dixon, averaging more than 27 points a game.

Indiana (25-11) wasn't even ranked in the final poll and is seeking to tie the 1988 Kansas team as the only one with as many as 11 losses to win an NCAA title.

The Hoosiers, seeded fifth, are also seeking to join the Jayhawks as one of the few teams seeded lower than fourth to have won: Two No. 6s did it, North Carolina State in 1983 and Kansas in 1988, and No. 8 Villanova won in 1985.

Everything says Indiana can't win, which is plenty to make Maryland Coach Gary Williams fret.

After all, Indiana beat not only Maryland's nemesis, Duke, but an Oklahoma team that beat Maryland by 16 points this season.

The loosey-goosey Hoosiers, meanwhile, are continually quizzed on their seeming lack of athleticism.

"Are you a lot more athletic than people realize?" someone asked.

Fife leaned forward to a microphone.

"No," he said, to peals of laughter.

Hornsby took his turn next.

"I can dunk ... but not very well," he said. "I think they overlook how well we play together, that we actually know how to play this game. I think we are very smart basketball players, and sometimes that can overcome athletic ability."

So can torrid shooting.

Indiana has shot 55% in its five NCAA tournament games, and never less than 50%.

From three-point range, the Hoosiers are shooting 52.9%, making 37 of 70, including that stunning 15 of 19 against Kent State.

"You have to really get out hard on them," Williams said. "When you do that, you open up [Jared] Jeffries in the middle there. We had the same problem with [Kansas shooters Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich]--if you go too hard, there's [Drew] Gooden and Nick [Collison] in the middle.

"I sometimes think three-point shooting gets a lot of attention, but I think it was against Duke they hardly made any threes [two of 10], yet they still won that game. They're just a good basketball team."

Still, they are going against a very, very good one.

Indiana must contend not only with Dixon but with a stable of powerfully athletic inside players--center Lonny Baxter and forward Chris Wilcox as well as Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle, who came off the bench to help beat Kansas in the semifinals after Baxter got into early foul trouble.

"I'm disappointed he got in foul trouble because he probably got his bad game out of the way," Indiana Coach Mike Davis said. "I watched him play UConn, where he had [29] points. I was thinking to myself, 'If we play them, how do we guard him?'"

Indiana's inside players are gifted, but not as physically strong. Jeffries is 6 feet 10 and 215 pounds, and Jeff Newton, who came off the bench to help beat Oklahoma, is 6-9 and 210.

Baxter is 6-8, 260, and Wilcox is 6-10, 220 but ferociously athletic.

"I think you have to go right back at them," Jeffries said. "Whenever guys are good on offense, it's important to put pressure on them and make them guard you. If you can get a couple of fouls on Wilcox, a couple of fouls on Lonny Baxter, then that benefits you. If you let them do what they want to on offense and they don't have to guard you on the other end, then they're going to have big games."

Indiana is a twist on your usual underdog, but these teams have one thing in common: They have been through a lot.

Indiana's players endured the Bob Knight firing saga less than two years ago, turning to former assistant Mike Davis.

"I can still remember standing outside Coach Knight's house after we went to speak to him," Odle said. "Of course everyone was talking about transferring and leaving, but we kind of looked around at each other. I told everyone, hey, we can have a heck of a team, and I think everyone just bought into that."

Some of Maryland's players have endured a pain far deeper.

Dixon lost both parents to complications from AIDS before he finished high school, and forward Byron Mouton lost his older brother, Kevin, in a shooting incident in Houston during the season.

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