There is a lot of irony in tonight's Annapolis and Northwestern boys Class 4A semifinal (7 p.m.) at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.
It's the first appearance by No. 7 Annapolis (21-5) since 1991 and the first since 1987 for the Wildcats (16-6) from Prince George's County. The last time Northwestern was at Cole, the Wildcats knocked off Annapolis, 69-56, in the semifinals on the way to the school's fourth state championship.
Jay Bias, the younger brother of the late Maryland great Len Bias, scored 24 points and grabbed 14 boards that night with his brother's name written on his shoes.
An Annapolis standout in defeat with 21 points was a guard who was named the Anne Arundel County Player of the Year. He was Tim Brown, now an assistant to Annapolis coach John Brady.
In Brady's first of 12 trips to Cole in 1978, his Panthers were led by a smooth guard named Barry Booth. Booth would lead Brady to his first final the following season, a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds to Montgomery Blair.
Now, 17 years later, Brady has a pair of junior guards who are twins, Barry and Byron Booth.
"Barry [Booth Sr.] played on my first teams at Annapolis and now his sons helped get me back here," said Brady, who won a state title in 1990.
Irony aside, Brady's Panthers face the same dilemma they did the last time they met the Wildcats in the state playoffs. Northwestern has a decided edge in height, although it does have a new coach in Leonard Wood (75-57, six seasons).
"I guess we'll hold the ball for 32 minutes," joked Brady (396-73, 19 seasons).
Northwestern is led by 6-foot-9 center Jamar Gaither, who averages 10 points and 11 boards a game, and 6-7 and 6-5 forwards Sean Smith and Randy Dickerson. The Wildcats' front line consists of all seniors. Smith averages eight points and 12 rebounds while Dickerson is the team's leading scorer with 22 points and seven boards per outing.
Three more Wildcats off the bench are 6-4 or better in guard Mike Scott (6-4), who averages 12 points and eight rebounds, and forwards Adrian Stewart (6-4) and Stanley Logan (6-5). That's six Wildcats at 6-4 or better.
Annapolis starts 6-7 junior Boo Diggs, the county's first player to lead in scoring (20.5) and rebounding (11.5) since Andover's Steve Stielper (33.0, 18.5) in 1976. Other than Diggs and Brian Barber, a 6-6 forward off the bench, the Panthers have only two 6-3 players in starting forward Linford Matthews and reserve Donnell Foote.
"We're taller, but we know that Diggs is the real deal, can score, block shots and play defense," said Wood, referring to his scouting reports on Annapolis.
"Height can be an advantage on a bigger college floor, and the big thing about our height is that our guys can run. A lot of teams couldn't run with our big men."
Running and getting opponents into a full-court game is the Annapolis forte and has helped the Panthers produce 74.5 points a game while giving up 61.7. Wood's Wildcats, who prefer a motion offense, are averaging 65.2 and giving up 62. Northwestern's front line has averaged 34 rebounds a game, which interestingly enough is about what Annapolis gives up a game while pulling in 40. If Matthews, who averages 9.5 points and eight rebounds a game, and Barber (8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds), can step it up and give Diggs help on the boards and Barry Booth plays his usual superb defense, the Panthers should be right there.
Booth almost always draws the assignment of guarding the other team's leading scorer, and Dickerson should be his man tonight.
Brady has to assume that his senior backcourt of point guard John Downs and shooting guard Ryan Dacey will have average nights. Anything more from Downs, who averages 7.1 points and 5.6 assists per, and Dacey, who averages 15.8 points, should spell an Annapolis victory.
"We were impressed with their guard play and their perimeter shooting, especially that No. 33 [Dacey]," said Wood.
Downs has played his best down the stretch and Dacey, who is nursing a stiff neck, can bury a team with his three-point accuracy. The 6-2 Dacey holds the school records for three-pointers in a season (81) and career (128).
Annapolis averages 40 percent from three-point range, Northwestern 38 percent, but Annapolis has taken 280 shots from beyond the arc, while Northwestern has tried only 120.
The base defense for both teams is man-to-man, but each will play combinations and match-up zone.
Third-ranked Southern (21-3) of Baltimore and Paint Branch (14-8) play the 9 p.m. game in 4A, and the Annapolis/Northwestern survivor gets the winner Saturday at 8 p.m.
Pub Date: 3/07/96