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Tonight's Final

Keys To The Game

April 01, 2002|Paul Gutierrez

STYLE OF PLAY: Indiana, which is shooting 52.9% from three-point territory in the tournament, is feared primarily for its proficiency from beyond the arc, so in the NCAA semifinals Oklahoma spread the floor on defense against the Hoosiers in an attempt to thwart their perimeter game. Indiana responded by pounding the ball into the paint and beating the more physical Sooners at their own game down low while getting their big men in foul trouble. Then the Hoosiers went to work from the outside. Expect Indiana to try the same formula tonight, though Maryland insists it is not taking the less-athletic Hoosiers for granted after out-running and out-gunning Kansas, the nation's leading scoring team. The Terrapins maintain that they are as comfortable in transition as they are in half-court sets.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Juan Dixon vs. Dane Fife. Dixon lit up Kansas for 33 points in the second NCAA semifinal after Fife had badgered Oklahoma's top scorer, Hollis Price, into a dreadful one-of-11 shooting performance. The pesky Fife, who has earned a reputation as a stopper with his in-your-jersey defense, has no illusions about containing the Dixon by himself. "This is definitely going to be the toughest challenge of our careers," Fife said. "It's not going to take one of us, but ... all five of us as a team to win. I don't know how we're going to do that yet." Dixon said he looks forward to the test. "Being a marked man is nothing new to me," he said. "I'm not worried at all. I'm just going to go out there and play my game. I'm not talking trash, but that's just the type of person I am. I have a lot of confidence in my ability."

INTANGIBLES: Indiana, a popular pick to lose its first-round game to Utah, is riding a wave of Hoosier Hysteria unknown in these parts for at least a decade. The Hoosiers, who can become only the fourth team to win a national title with at least 10 losses, are relishing the underdog role. Maryland, with its three senior starters and top seven scorers returning from last year's Final Four team, relies heavily on experience. The Terrapins learned much from blowing a 22-point lead to Duke in the 2001 national semifinals.

MAGIC NUMBERS: Indiana, only the second No. 5-seeded team to reach the championship game, has won its last 31 games when scoring more than 75 points. The Hoosiers are also 16-2 this season when they make at least 14 free throws in a game and are 15-3 when they make seven or more three-point shots. The Terrapins, meanwhile, are 30-0 when they shoot a higher percentage than their opponents and are 27-2 when they shoot more free throws. Maryland is 20-2 when it outrebounds an opponent.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Maryland should handle Indiana. Then again, Duke and Oklahoma should have too. The unheralded Hoosiers' cover has been blown, and they won't sneak up on the Terrapins tonight as they attempt to lull Maryland into a false sense of security. Indiana's best chance at winning its first title since 1987 is to replicate the game plan it ran to perfection against the Sooners--get Maryland's big men in foul trouble while unleashing multiple screens for its shooters to pick the Terrapins apart from the outside. The difference is, Maryland has too many weapons and is much deeper than either Duke or Oklahoma. After a tight first half, the Terrapins should cruise in the last five or so minutes ... unless Indiana makes 15 three-point shots, as it did against Kent State, and Maryland's starting frontcourt fouls out.

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