TEMPE, Ariz. - Four years ago, Steve Nash failed to get Maryland's attention when he was a wanna-be point guard trying to break into big-time college basketball.
xTC Today, the all-time assist leader at Santa Clara will command as much attention as Maryland can muster in the first round of the NCAA West Regional.
"He's the main thrust of their offense," Maryland's Exree Hipp said yesterday. "If we can confuse him a little bit for the first 20 minutes, we can create a whole different tempo in the game."
When the two teams meet in a 2: 38 p.m. tip-off at the Arizona State University Activity Center, the game likely will be decided around the issues of style and pace. The faster the pace and more frenzied the style, the better for the Terrapins (17-12).
Opening the tournament for the second straight year in the West bracket against a West Coast Conference team, the Terps promise to unleash the full fury of their trapping defense.
Hipp, a 6-foot-8 small forward who is often used against smaller guards, said he will share the assignment on Nash with freshman Laron Profit.
"Laron and I are definitely going to start on him," said Hipp, who has tried to make up for a disappointing season at the offensive end of the floor with his defensive prowess. "We'll try to utilize our size and height advantage."
Nash's health became an issue when he did not participate in team drills with the Broncos (19-8) in yesterday's practice.
"I just have some nagging injuries, nothing more," he said.
Santa Clara coach Dick Davey described it as a hamstring problem, then deemed it not severe. "It's not anything that will affect his play," Davey said. "We were a little concerned with it, and we didn't want to ruin [yesterday] his opportunity to play [today]."
Nash, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, eliminated the revenge motive when he faces Maryland.
"I didn't send a tape to Maryland, but my high school coach sent them a letter my senior year," he said. "I'm sure they get thousands of those, so I really don't hold a grudge against them. If they tried to follow up every letter, they'd never get anything done. And they got a great recruiting class. They probably recruited over my head anyway."
That was the year Maryland coach Gary Williams recruited Hipp, Duane Simpkins and Mario Lucas to go with Johnny Rhodes.
"We had never recruited that much in Canada," Williams said. "We get a lot of tapes. He's a good player."
Nash averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 turnovers this season, when he was Player of the Year in the WCC. In a league not known for pressing defense, Nash still committed 94 turnovers.
And he freely said that he hasn't faced the likes of Maryland's defense in the WCC.
"Obviously, it's a very good press," Nash said. "It causes some problems for a lot of teams. We've seen what it can do. We just hope we'll be prepared to face the challenge. It's important to be aggressive against the press. We want to attack it and take it to them."
The Terps led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 10.9 steals a game, and forced 20.1 turnovers.
"If we can use the press to dictate an up-tempo game and get them out of their half-court set, it will be a big problem for them and a big help to us," Profit said.
A year ago, Maryland beat Gonzaga of the WCC, 87-63, in a first-round game in the West Regional, forcing 18 turnovers.
This tournament will mark the passing of an era for the Terps' four seniors.
"I think we feel a sense of urgency from the seniors," Profit said. "They know this is their last chance. But right now, the team is concerned about being ready to play at the beginning of the game. We feel in the Georgia Tech game, that's what brought us down."
Pub Date: 3/15/96