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Looking Back on Maryland's National Title Ten Years Later


Quick note - if you want to talk about tonight's title game between Kentucky and Kansas, you can use this as the pseudo game thread.

It's probably my favorite memory during my four years in College Park; playing the Maryland Victory song and then Queen's "We Are the Champions" inside the Georgia Dome, as confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling. Johnny Holiday had just screamed out "The kids have done it!" as Juan Dixon tossed the basketball high into the air before falling to the ground as he hugged fellow senior Lonny Baxter. Gary Williams had finally reached the top of college basketball's mountain, resurrecting what was once a great program from the ashes of the Len Bias tragedy and Bob Wade era, and taken them to the top. The Maryland Terrapins were king of the college basketball universe.

Thinking back to that game, I can't believe it was ten years ago (and yes, I know the anniversary was technically yesterday). I was just a freshman at Maryland. My cousin, who graduated the year prior, already hated me because the football team had just won the ACC Title and gone to the Orange Bowl a few months earlier. After the natty game, he really hated me. The reason my cousin was so jealous that he wasn't there to experience Maryland finally winning it all was because that victory over Indiana represented so much more than a National Title. It represented Maryland finally achieving that ultimate goal, one which had slipped by so many times before, in not only the Gary Williams era, but back to the days of Lefty and when only one team from each conference was invited to the Big Dance. It helped ease the pain of the previous year's loss to Duke in the Final Four, after blowing that lead in the second half. It represented vindication for Gary Williams, who many thought would never win "the big one", and who did so with a scrawny kid from Calvert Hall and an overweight big man, both of which no one thought had the talent to play in the ACC. It was also the final season at legendary Cole Field House and closing out that building by raising that championship banner into the rafters was a fairy tale ending that everyone enjoyed.

The game itself was rather ugly. Both teams didn't shoot particularly well from the floor that night. But I'll never forget when Indiana took the lead in the second half, Juan Dixon answered right away and hit a three pointer with just over nine minutes to play, and Maryland never looked back. I had no finger nails left by halftime of that game. I couldn't stand the thought of Maryland losing after getting so close. I wouldn't let myself think about the fact that this was Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter's last game in a Terp uniform. And even as Maryland started pulling away toward the end of the second half, I still thought about things like "gone in 60 seconds" and wondered if we'd actually win this game. Would this finally be it? When the clock hit double zeros, it was so surreal. I thought I was dreaming. But then it hits you - your school just achieved what many believe is the hardest thing to accomplish in sports - winning the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

While that game was amazing, many people forget the great teams that the Terps had to defeat in order to get to that title game.

Maryland was the #1 seed in the East region and had to face the highest possible seed in each game until the title game. They beat Siena (#16), Wisconsin (#8), Kentucky (#4), and UConn (#2) just to get to the Final Four. Then in the semi-finals, they had to face Roy Williams' #1 Seed Kansas. And after all of that, facing some of the most storied programs in all of college basketball, Maryland had to face one more, the #5 seed Indiana Hoosiers.

I went to every one of those games that year. The Sweet 16 game with Kentucky and Elite Eight game with UConn were both awesome games. The UConn game was a nail biter, and the Kansas game was won on the back of Juan Dixon, who I believe had 33 points. Honestly, Kansas and Maryland were probably the best two teams in the Final Four that year, so the fact that they met in the semis rather than championship was a bit disappointing, but I obviously wouldn't change a thing.

I can't wait for Maryland to once again climb that mountain and achieve the ultimate goal of hoisting that trophy into the air as "One Shinning Moment" blares in the background. Here's hoping that day is not too far off.

Until then, enjoy this highlight video and remember what it was like having your school on the national stage as NCAA Champions.

2002 NCAA Basketball Championship (via ncaaondemand)