East Region Finals
by Adam Shandler
No. 1 Maryland 90, No. 2 Connecticut 82
CBS’s Jim Nantz had a busy evening. Not only did he have to call play-by-play for the Maryland-UConn East Regional Final, he also had to count all those ties and lead changes. Maybe you caught the abacus when they cut to him and Billy Packer. For those counting at home, there were 24 of both.
Maryland got their biggest challenge of the tournament from the Huskies who used tempo and the three point shot to keep it nip-and tuck. The Terps never owned control of the game until the final seconds, when point guard Mark Blake nailed a trey with 25 tics left to give his team a somewhat comfortable 6-point lead.
Connecticut’s gnawing of the shot clock on each possession made Maryland antsy, and the Terps, waiting for their opponent to “just shoot already” watched Spaldings swish through the net or get rebounded and slammed by guys like Caron Butler and Emeka Okafor. UConn hit 8-of-19 3-pointers; 3-for-3 for Butler.
But Connecticut shifted into a zone defensively in the final minutes, and that allowed Maryland to carve up the Huskies both inside and outside. The Terps’s free throw shooting held up down the stretch. As a team, Gary Williams’s club was perfect on its last eight free throws in the final three minutes – 31 of 35 overall, blipped by Lonnie Baxter’s 15-18.
Baxter finished with 29 points, Juan Dixon scored 27. UConn’s Caron Butler led all scorers with 32 in spite of the losing effort.
Everything’s peachy in College Park. The Terps make their second straight Final Four appearance and will grapple with the Kansas Jayhawks next Saturday in Atlanta.