Finalists have little in common

Monday, April 1, 2002

ATLANTA -- Pick a point, any point: History, style, coach, expectations. Indiana and Maryland aren't close on any of them.

They are, however, the only college basketball teams still playing, and one will leave the Georgia Dome tonight as national champion.

Indiana is trying to win its sixth national title. Maryland is in the championship game for the first time.

Indiana is a slower team that thrives in the halfcourt and averages 71 points. Maryland loves the transition game, lives off big runs and is among the nation's top scoring teams at 85 points a game.

Indiana's Mike Davis is in just his second season as a head coach. He has not only survived being Bob Knight's successor but has been successful.

Maryland's Gary Williams is in his 24th season as a head coach and his only other Final Four appearance came last season.

Indiana was the No. 5 seed in the South Regional and wasn't expected to get to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, let alone knock off top-seeded Duke and play for a third weekend. Maryland, the No. 1 seed in the East, was supposed to return to the Final Four. Anything else would have been considered a failure.

Otherwise, these teams are almost identical.

"I look at who we played to get here and their tradition," Williams said, referring to Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas, all former national champions who fell on the Terrapins' run. "We're trying to establish ourselves. Our program probably hasn't been as smooth as a lot of those other programs. As we go along here, I think we're establishing our own tradition."

The banners hanging in Assembly Hall in Bloomington are testaments to Indiana's rich history. The five national championships came in 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987.

The last three were under Knight, fired by Indiana in September 2000. Davis, an assistant to Knight, stepped into what many people considered an impossible situation.

Instead, he survived the turmoil and put his own stamp on the program, including news conferences during the tournament filled with laughs and feel-good stories. Knight's were noted for rants, tongue-lashings and once, even a bullwhip.

"As I said from Day One, I'm just a basketball coach," Davis said. "Over the last couple of days I understand how some coaches can forget who they are when people start patting you on the back. I've had three guys kiss me, tell me they love me. If you don't know who you are, it's easy to get caught up in it."

The Hoosiers (25-11) beat Oklahoma 73-64 Saturday night, coming up with a great offensive effort against a stellar defensive team. They were 8-for-13 from 3-point range, a good effort but nowhere near the 15-for-19 they had from beyond the arc in the regional final win over Kent State.

To win the last game the Hoosiers will need that 3-point shooting and solid inside play from Jared Jeffries and Jarrad Odle to offset the formidable Maryland front line of Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Byron Mouton.

"Any team that's gotten to where Indiana has gotten, you don't look at their record, you look at how they're playing now," Williams said. "Any time a team plays team defense like they do, they have a chance to beat anybody."

The list of anybodys includes Duke. Indiana pulled off a stunning upset and ruined most pool bracket sheets, beating the Blue Devils 74-73 in the regional semifinals.

Maryland (31-4) didn't surprise anybody with its wins. All-American Juan Dixon was his usual self in each, adding to his tournament run with 33 points in the 97-88 win over fellow top seed Kansas on Saturday night. The Terrapins held on after losing most of a 20-point lead over the final six minutes.

"It's very hard to stop a guy like Juan Dixon, especially the way he's been playing," said Indiana's Dane Fife, who will draw the assignment tonight.

Davis added: "When a guy is playing the way he's playing, you hope he has an off-game. He's probably the best player in the tournament."

Hoosiers point guard Tom Coverdale played 29 minutes against Oklahoma, more than expected after he sprained his left ankle in the win over Kent State.

"It was pretty sore after the game but I think it will be better Monday than it was Saturday," said Coverdale, who had three points, four rebounds, four assists and five turnovers against the Sooners. "I think it was limiting but it wasn't any excuse for the way I played towards the end of the game."

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