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Arizona hold a 2-0 advantage in the series. The Cats last faces the Terps in the 1998 Sweet Sixteen where the Cats prevailed 87-79 in a game where Mike Bibby scored 26 points.
The Wildcats have fared well in season openers. Since 1987-88 the Cats are 24-1 in season-opening tournaments and have won 10 straight since a 72-70 loss to Minnesota in the 1994 Great Alaska Shootout. The team has also won six straight at the Garden.
The Terrapins return four starters and nine letterwinners from last season's club that won 25 games. Leading the way are All-America candidates Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon, who combined to average 33.8 points per game in 2000-01. Point guard Steve Blake is an up and comer who posted averages of 6.9 points and 6.9 assists last year.
"They (Maryland) do a great job of running their offense," Lute Olson said. "Both of their guards are 6-3 or 6-4, so one of the biggest problems will come when the shot goes up with our defensive rebounding. I don't think it would be wise for us to use a small lineup."
CENTER: Lonny Baxter provides the mass in the middle. At 6-8 260, the senior is not a player you can push around. Baxter may not be the tallest player around, but he often outplays taller opponents due to his strength and excellent body control. Baxter's game is around the basket but the bigman shoots over 56 percent. Baxter attacks the glass well, hauling in just a hair under eight boards a night. Arizona will counter with a similarly sized Isaiah Fox. At 6-9, 265 the true freshman has the size to bang with Baxter, but in the end experience will be key.
POWER FORWARD: Tahj Holden appears to have the edge at the power forward spot for the Terps. The 6-10 junior has the size to bang, but can also step out and knock down a jumper. Arizona's Ricky Anderson is even more versatile than Holden. The 6-9 Wildcat doesn't have the bulk that Holden possesses, but he is the Wildcats best outside shooter and has shown some good post moves. Anderson may end up being a standout for the Cats, but essentially both players are mysteries.
ADVANTAGE: Arizona (slight)
SMALL FORWARD: Byron Mouton gets the nod at small forward. The former Tulane player averaged just under 10 ppf last season. Arizona counters with Luke Walton who does all the little things well and scored 21-points in the Cats' first exhibition.
ADVANTAGE: Arizona (slight)
SHOOOTING GUARD: The Terps have one of the nation's best in Juan Dixon. Dixon scored 18.2 points per game last season and the senior may top that this season as he contends for All-American honors. Arizona will counter with one of their two freshmen. Either Salim Soudamire or Will Bynum will get the call. Both Arizona guards are smaller than Dixon, so expect the Terrapins to attack the young Wildcats.
POINT GUARD: The point guard battle will pit two Final Four participants against each other. Steve Blake is a solid point guard, whose offensive skills are still developing. Expect the assist machine (6.9 per game) to add more scoring to his arsenal. Blake has the height advantage over Jason Gardner, but Gardner is quicker. Blake is the better assist man, Gardner the better scorer.
BENCH: Arizona has a bench made up of four freshmen and four walk-ons. Maryland counters with a deep, experienced unit. Drew Nicholas is a pure shooter with very good range. Freshman Matt Grinon and undersized Andre Collins should provide backcourt minutes. Chris Wilcox will see a lot of time behind Holden. JC transfer Ryan Randall provides added bulk, while 7-4 redshirt freshman Matt Slaninka is probably slated for garbage time.
COACHING: Gary Williams is a very good coach, who after last year's Final Four run may move into the realm of the elite. Williams has won everywhere he has been and now he has the Terps looking like a legitimate Final Four contender once again. Lute Olson is Lute Olson. The Arizona coaching legend is facing a re-loading project after taking the Cats to there fourth Final Four.
INTANGIBLES: The Terps truly believe that these are the two teams that should have played in the national championship. The Terps are already eyeing the Final Four and will probably play this season with a chip on their shoulder and a sense of purpose. Arizona is still trying to mold their young team after NBA defections made it a necessity to get six freshmen ready to play.
OUTLOOK: The overall talent levels of the two teams is very close. However, the Terps have the experience and the depth that the Cats lack. Maryland's two best players play in positions where the Cats will have to counter with true freshman. Lute Olson always has his teams ready to go early, but beating a Final Four caliber team may be too much to ask.
For more on the Maryland game, read Doug Carr's commentary by taking this link:
Doug Carr's Commentary