Members of 2002 Maryland title team reminisce on unforgettable NCAA Tournament

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Julius Long
·5 min read
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Members of 2002 Terps team reminisce on unforgettable title run originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Fans can see more from the roundtable between Maryland legends Gary Williams, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and Jimmy Patsos Friday night at 7 p.m. on Wizards Pregame Live.

Whether you look back on Maryland’s long tenure in the ACC fondly or with great anguish, 2002 was a year of such dominance that it didn’t matter for the Terps.

The Terrapins lived in the shadow of North Carolina and Duke for almost 50 years, losing in devastating fashion to the Blue Devils in the Final Four game the year prior after building a first-half lead of 22 points. But Hall-of-Fame coach Gary Williams, with his alma mater's program in his hands, saw to it that the 2002 Terps would bring the school its first ever NCAA title. 

Williams, accompanied by assistant coach Jimmy Patsos and star guards Juan Dixon and Steven Blake, sat down with NBC Sports Washington for a roundtable and reflected on that historic run.

"We went through Kentucky Sweet 16, Connecticut [in the Elite Eight] and then we end up playing Kansas and Indiana," Dixon said. "That’s a tough four-game stretch right there. Those are a lot of pros, a lot of great coaches and high-level programs."

But despite falling to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament that year, the program that Williams had built proved resilient throughout the regular season -- and in the years before when one good team after another struggled to get past the Sweet 16. The Terps lost in that round in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999. The years of heartache, though, forged a team that could stand up to just about any opponent by 2002.

Elite 8 vs. Connecticut

“Jim Calhoun told his team, whoever wins this game is going to win the tournament,” Patsos recalled.

After Maryland's double-digit win over the eventual Big East champions in the regular season that year, Calhoun was more than aware of how tall of a challenge the Terps were even if other teams in the tournament were not. But Connecticut was nonetheless a heavy hitter. 

“They had NBA players on that team as well. You can talk about Caron Butler, you can talk about Ben Gordon, I think [Emeka] Okafor was a part of that team as well," Dixon said. "They had a very good basketball team and they were well-coached. That Elite 8 game was as high-level game as I’ve ever been a part of.”

Dixon, who himself was drafted by the Wizards No. 17th overall in the 2002 NBA Draft, and the Terps came out on top after a tight affair. They all agreed that it was Blake's go ahead three-pointer that got them over the hump and into the Final Four for the second year in a row, this time to take on No. 2 Kansas.

Final Four vs. Kansas

Kansas, led by NBC Sports Washington's Wizards analyst Drew Gooden, jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first two minutes of the game, putting Maryland's hopes for a national championship game in jeopardy from the start.

“I don’t remember specifically what was said, but I just remember knowing like ‘we’re good we got this, we’re alright," Blake said. "We’re not a team that just folds when things go against us you know. We just get closer and tighter and we’d been in tight situations before so this wasn’t something new."

Maryland would ultimately battle back to win comfortably and clinch a title game meeting with an Indiana team with a championship pedigree of its own and that year known to be lethal from beyond the arc.

National Championship Game vs. Indiana

Patsos recalled that Williams didn't look too deep for his game plan ahead of the biggest game in Terps basketball history.

“All you did was tape down the NBA three-point line and say ‘we’re going to have to defend out to here on Monday to win it.’ It was a very simple message but sometimes people overcoat and overreach. You just put down the NBA three-point line and said if we take away the threes we’ll win," Patsos said.

That plan on defense proved to be valuable preparation for the high-scoring squad. Dixon pointed out that they had averaged 85 points per game that season, but on April 1, 2002, the day that mattered more than any other, the Terps struggled offensively.

“One of the things that’s never talked about that I’m most proud of about that championship game, is because we weren’t playing well on offense, we held Indiana basically to 49 points," Williams said, discounting a three they gave up well ahead with two seconds left at the end of the game that gave the Hoosiers their final margin.

Williams added: "I’m really proud of the fact that we could be that type of team that had enough ability to realize that we were struggling a little bit on the offensive end of the court and then turn it up defensively because Indiana had some players and we were able to basically shut them down.” 

The 2002 Maryland squad brought home the first national championship in program history after defeating Indiana 64-52. But for Blake, Dixon, Patsos and Williams, that day was about much more than a title. It was about validating a program that had knocked on the door for the better part of 30 years in the sport's greatest conference before finally breaking through. 

"It was so much bigger than our team, our program, it was for the entire Maryland community," Dixon said.