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Dixon Deftly Pulls Fast One

MVP: As quickly as Indiana comes back, Maryland guard's three-point shot sparks strong closing run.

April 02, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The momentum, gathering like some fierce and approaching Georgia thunderstorm since midway through the first half, had finally shifted toward Indiana.

The Georgia Dome crowd exploded as the underdog Indiana Hoosiers, who had trailed by 12 points in the game's first 11 minutes, had ridden an emotional wave of three-point baskets to take their first lead over Maryland at 44-42 with 9:53 left in Monday night's national championship game.

It took all of 11 seconds for the Terrapins to stem the tide and reverse the flow.

That's when Juan Dixon took the heart out of Hoosier Hysteria on the Terrapins' ensuing possession as he made a three-point shot from the left wing to regain the lead for Maryland.

The senior shooting guard's first basket in more than 20 minutes gave the Terrapins a lead they would never relinquish in winning their first national title, 64-52.

"Really, I don't remember seeing the score at that time," said Dixon, who finished with a game-high 18 points and was named the Final Four's most outstanding player.

"I knew they had hit a big shot, the fans went wild. But we were able to break a trap. [Maryland point guard] Steve Blake made a great pass and I had an open look so I took the shot and we were able to get the lead back."

Said Maryland Coach Gary Williams: "We had to counter right there. The crowd was starting to get into it from Indiana and we needed something big to happen. Juan just did what he did all year for us."

Indiana senior guard Dane Fife knew exactly when the Hoosiers' short-lived advantage in momentum died.

"He swung it back in their direction [with the three-pointer]," he said. "I was right in his stuff. That's why he's the ACC player of the year. That's why he's the national champion."

After the teams traded baskets, Dixon then hit a leaning jumper that ignited a 17-3 Maryland run down the stretch.

Dixon started fast, scoring 11 of Maryland's first 21 points. But after his basket at the 10:01 mark of the first half gave the Terrapins a 21-11 lead, Dixon didn't score again until his clutch three-pointer.

Fife, known for always defending the other team's top scoring guard, held Dixon more than nine points below his tournament scoring average of 27.4 points, but that was of little solace.

"He won," he said. "He has the ability to score at will."

Much had been made about the Fife-Dixon matchup as a key to the title game, especially after Fife had harassed Oklahoma sharpshooter Hollis Price into a dreadful one-for-11 shooting performance and Dixon had scored a career high-tying 33 points in the semifinals against Kansas on Saturday night.

"He played good defense," Dixon said of Fife. "I wasn't trying to come out and shoot a lot. I was trying to do other things because I knew that Indiana was keying on me.... I was trying to let the game come to me."

Dixon made six of nine from the field, two of four on three-pointers, and made all four of his free-throw attempts. The 6-foot-3, 164-pounder also had five rebounds, five steals and three assists in a game-high 38 minutes while committing seven turnovers.

"I think I played great help defense today and was able to get some steals," Dixon said. "I helped my team out in different aspects of the game."

Especially when it came to shifting the momentum.

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