Hipp makes sure sweet prediction is on mark


WICHITA, Kan. -- As the seconds ticked away last night at the Kansas Coliseum, as the celebration began on the Maryland sideline and among the team's fans in the stands, Exree Hipp pointed toward the press table and said, "I told you so."

Hipp predicted before the season began that the young Terrapins,with a starting lineup of three sophomores and two freshmen, would not only make the NCAA tournament but also get to the Sweet 16. Hipp held steadfast in that belief all season.

"I knew how good the freshmen were, and I knew how good this team could be," Hipp said in the locker room later, after the 10th-seeded Terrapins had stunned second-seeded Massachusetts, 95-87, in the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.

With the biggest performance of his career, the 6-8 sophomore forward from Washington backed up his big words. Hipp finished with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, 15 of them in the second half. And, just as importantly, he put the shackles on Massachusetts guard Mike Williams.

Williams, who scored 25 points against Johnny Rhodes in a 94-80victory over the Terps back in December, had problems because of Hipp's six-inch height advantage. He finished with 13 points, only four in the second half, on five of 12 shooting. He also had five turnovers.

"We wanted Exree to make it difficult for Williams to shoot, and he did a great job," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.

While Hipp believed that the Terps could get this far -- one disbelieving reporter thought Hipp was talking about making the Sweet 16 of the NIT -- it took awhile for his teammates and coaches to buy into it.

"I kind of snickered when I heard him say that," freshman center Joe Smith said last night. "But after a while, I think a lot of us started to believe. It took a lot for Exree to say that."

Williams said that when he heard Hipp's prediction, he remembered thinking, "I wished Exree would stop talking." But a coach who purposely didn't set goals for one of the youngest teams in the country said last night, "I didn't want to take his heart away."

Last night's victory not only stunned the Minutemen, but the Terps as well. They stood around the locker room in a happy daze, their eyes blinking in the television lights, their minds jumping ahead to next week's trip to Dallas for a matchup with Michigan.

Asked if he thought Maryland could make it all the way to the Final Four, freshman forward Keith Booth said, "Let's not get too outrageous. We're going to take it one game at a time. But there's no pressure on us. Nobody expected us to get this far."

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