Head coach Gary Williams and players from the 2001-02 team look back at five key moments from the Terps’ championship run.
All memories were told to Glenn Clark or Luke Jackson.
Maryland defeated Connecticut, 90-82, in the Elite Eight in 2002. A 3-pointer by Juan Dixon tied the game at 77 with less than four minutes to go, and a 3-pointer by Steve Blake put the Terps up, 86-80, with less than 30 seconds to go. Just how big were those shots?
I think you have two completely different players in Juan and Steve, but two guys with the same toughness wanting to win. Juan just took the shot knowing that that’s what he did. He took big shots. That was his game. Some guys score some points, but they hide when it comes time to take the big shot at the end of the game. Juan wanted the ball. He just wanted the ball. He was going to score.
Steve, on the other hand, was really struggling that day. Connecticut had good guards, and he knew, though, coming out of the timeout that we had Drew Nicholas in the game. [Nicholas] was a great shooter. We had Juan in the other corner. He was a great, clutch shooter. And we had [Chris] Wilcox underneath and Lonny Baxter to set things up, so we set Wilcox up high with a screen thinking that if they really helped, we could get Wilcox on a roll or whatever, but they went behind the screen on Steve, which was probably a good move because he hadn’t scored. Steve read that. He pulled up. And we never talked about Steve taking that shot in the huddle. But Steve pulled up and made the shot, and that put us up and we won the game.
I was able to score the basketball throughout that game. They just went up three and I felt comfortable in the position I was in. … I think it was Taliek Brown who gave me some space, and I just decided to rise up from the NBA line and was able to make a huge three. … Everything else that was outside of those lines, I tuned it out. So at that moment, I knew it was a big shot, but it’s almost like it’s Maryland basketball playing against Connecticut basketball and it was almost like a competitive pickup game. That’s how locked in I was. I didn’t even really hear or feel the energy from the fans. I knew it was a huge shot with like three minutes to go in the game, but I can tell you my mindset — and I try to communicate with our players here [at Coppin State] about that — is just about tuning out everything and just focusing on whatever we need to get done in that moment. I just had a lot of confidence to take that shot, and it went in. From there, we were able to finish the game off and win the game.
If you watch the MASN channel, it still comes on to this day. From the first opening moments, it was a battle. … Caron Butler, [Emeka] Okafor, Ben Gordon, those guys were all pros. We just had to really outlast them because it was one of those games where if you let up, you were going to lose. We just had to fight the whole game. It was just a battle from the beginning to the end. … I just remember Steve in the huddle saying he was taking the shot no matter what. I don’t even think the play was drawn up for him, but he just had so much confidence in himself in that moment that he took that big shot. That was the game, and then we were back in the Final Four again after that.
Juan Dixon at that time was the guy in college basketball. It was crazy because he wasn’t missing any jump shots, none of that. He was our rock. We depended on him a lot. When Blake came through with that 3-pointer, that was big because no one was expecting Blake to just pull up. We were getting ready to set up a play and everything. Next thing you know, Blake pulls up — boom, knocks it down. Right then, it was over. I felt like right there, that gave us the confidence that, “Oh, we’re going to pop this.” But Caron Butler that game, something was in him. He wanted to win it just as bad as we did. Caron Butler played a hell of a game that night, but I think the best team won that night. We gutted it out and we won. You think about those games going down the stretch that we had to play and the players that were there.
I’ll never forget Caron Butler [had six] points at half and he exploded for  in the second half. That game was crazy at the end. [Dixon and Blake] come down and hit those shots, it put us in the Final Four. It was a relief for us to get back where we thought we should be anyway, but that was a big-time game. They might have had four or five pros on their team. … I definitely remember Steve Blake’s shot because that’s the one that did it for us — the pump fake, then he shoots the three. I definitely remember that clearly. Steve Blake was always known for getting the ball to the right player at the right time, but for him to hit that big shot, it was big time for us as a program and us as a team. That was definitely a big-time shot.
Juan and Steve just took over. It was their time to shine, like always. They both took over like they were supposed to. … The intensity was there. We were out there playing as hard as we can play and we just left it all out on the court. It started that morning in shootaround. We were competing against each other in shootaround. That’s the intensity that was there and it just ran over to the game. … It was, “All right, these five guys up against these five guys just shooting around.” We made it a competition and just ran off of it.
For me, I remember having to come in and try to guard Caron Butler for stretches, which was no easy task for a 6-[foot]-3, 170-pound soaking-wet kid. But so many big plays were made down the stretch. Everybody remembers Steve’s shot as well as Juan’s. It was a dogfight, one of those types of games that Elite Eights are. We were just happy to move on to the Final Four. … I remember when Steve hit the shot. It was coming out of a timeout, Coach Williams drawing up a play and it [wasn’t] for Steve to take that look, but I think that kind of exemplified who Steve was. If he saw something and he believed in it, he was confident enough to break off a play and make a play. He hadn’t played particularly well all that game, but for him to step up and make a shot like that just speaks a lot to his character.
The Carrier Dome is almost like a football [stadium] size-wise. So even playing in that type of environment is very different than out at Cole Field House. Just the backdrop, the perception from the hoop to the stands is different. The word intensity probably really hits it. For us, the pressure was so great. But at the same point, I don’t think there were as much nerves [as] from a normal crowd, a normal audience, how loud it was. It was different.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Originally published Feb. 16, 2022