Nov. 8, 2001
By DOUG FEINBERG
AP MegaSports Writer
Maryland and Arizona made up half of last season's Final Four, but only one is expected to make a return trip this year.
The second-ranked Terrapins, who begin their season in the Coaches vs. Cancer IKON Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday against the Wildcats, expect nothing less than a trip to the NCAA finals.
"That's fine. Very few schools have those expectations," coach Gary Williams said. "You work hard to get those expectations. Anybody we play against who's ranked has those same expectations."
Expectations are high this season with four starters back from last season's 25-11 team that bowed out to Duke in the Final Four. The Terrapins have a strong backcourt with Juan Dixon, who led the team in scoring at 18.2 points last season, and Steve Blake.
"We've got four returning starters, guys who have been together for a long time," said Blake, who is on pace to become only the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 1,000 points and 1,000 assists over his career.
"We've already got a lot of plays in, so I think we do have a little advantage."
While Maryland has high hopes for this season, Arizona will be looking to rebuild.
The Wildcats were beaten by Duke in the NCAA finals last season, and return only one starter. It could have been another championship run for Arizona but underclassmen, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas and Michael Wright left early.
"We talked about what we would be like if everybody stays," said Luke Walton, one of three players on the roster with experience. "A lot of them were thinking about staying, but when it all came down to it, they made their decision. If they stay we are in the top two in the country again. They left and they are doing their thing. We are doing our thing here."
Point guard Jason Gardner also would have left, but he was persuaded to stay after attending a few NBA rookie camps and learning he wouldn't fare well in the draft.
"It was a shock to see everybody leave," incoming freshman Isaiah Fox said. "You knew some of them were going to leave early, but not everybody."
Coach Lute Olson will have to rely upon freshmen like Fox as Arizona faces a tough early season schedule.
"Our schedule is going to be tough," Olson said. "We like to schedule the best teams to give us the competition we need, but we also assumed this was going to be a veteran team."
Arizona, which is out of the Top 25 for the first time in 109 weeks, has won the two previous meetings with Maryland, including a victory on March 19, 1998, in the NCAA tournament.
Temple faces Florida in an earlier game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. The winning and losing teams will square off on Friday.