WASHINGTON -- Maryland didn't get the style of game it wanted, just the desired result.
No. 5 Stanford dictated its slower pace much of the way against the No. 2 Terps in the featured semifinal of the BB&T; Classic before 20,544 yesterday at MCI Center. That it was badly out-rebounded and limited to seven field goals in the second half, yet still won, 62-60, was entirely the point for Maryland.
"You have to be in a war sometimes," senior center Obinna Ekezie said, "to find out if you're tough enough to win."
In this battle against a rugged team with Final Four credentials, sleeker Maryland got a monstrous game from junior guard Steve Francis and a timely lift from freshman reserve Danny Miller. The Terps took control with a 24-6 run in the first half, only to stumble to their first second-half deficit of the season.
Maryland righted itself, though, and a win over DePaul tonight in the BB&T; championship game (8: 30, HTS) would make the Terps 10-0 for the third time in a basketball history that predates World War I.
In winning their first eight games by an average of 35.4 points, the Terps weren't in many fights, and, at first, they seemed shocked to be in one yesterday.
Maryland had 14 rebounds in the first half, when Stanford had 10 at the offensive end alone. The running Terps didn't answer any questions about their half-court offense, but they made their free throws, forced a season-high 19 turnovers by the Cardinal and did enough good things to lead by nine early in the second half.
"Stanford forced us to play their way," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I thought that might happen today, and believe me, for our future, it wasn't that bad to happen. They probably played as good a half-court defense as we'll see all year."
Stanford (4-2) kept coming and forged one final tie, on Arthur Lee's running bank shot over Terence Morris with 1: 54 left.
Francis, who had a season-high 24 points, stamped his imprint further on the game at that point. With the shot clock winding down, he took a pass in the lane, went up and drew a foul from Jason Collins. His free throws with 1: 22 left put the Terps ahead for good, 59-57.
At the other end, Francis lost his footing but not before his defense forced a turnover by Lee. Sealed off the boards for much of the game, Ekezie and Morris then kept alive a miss by Francis, and Stanford fouled Laron Profit with 20.3 seconds left. He made the first free throw but missed the second.
After Peter Sauer had an unforced turnover, the Terps rapidly got the ball in play. Morris inbounded a baseball pass to Profit for a breakaway slam and a 62-57 lead with 12 seconds left. Lee's three with 5.9 seconds left concluded the scoring, as the Cardinal was unable to foul the quick-passing Terps.
"Profit was my assignment, and he had 15 feet on me," Sauer said of what turned out to be the decisive points. "I wish one of the referees would have motioned to us that we were resuming play."
Profit was scoreless when Stanford fouled him in the final minute. He had sprained his left ankle on a dunk Thursday against Wake Forest, and played tentatively. Fortunately for Maryland, Miller did not.
Ahead 43-34 early in the second half, the Terps went nearly 10 minutes with one basket, and were behind 51-48 heading into the last seven minutes. Point guard Terrell Stokes bounced back from a turnover and tied it with a three-pointer with 6: 17 left.
After Morris made one free throw, Miller made maybe the best defensive stop in a game replete with them. He swatted away a go-ahead attempt by Mark Madsen, Stanford's demonstrative forward, and the block turned into an easy basket for Francis. On Stanford's next possession, Francis stripped Lee and went in for a 56-51 lead with 4: 52 left.
Francis had 10 points during the 24-6 run that helped Maryland take a 36-26 lead with 2: 40 left in the first half, but Miller was the catalyst. With Profit a step behind at both ends and the Terps down 21-12, Miller came in and loosened up his team and Stanford's defense with three-pointers on successive possessions.
"I told Danny before, I had a feeling it was going to be his game," Profit said. "I didn't know how my ankle would respond, but Stanford didn't do anything to stop me. I took myself out of the game."
He wasn't alone in the opening minutes, when a Final Four officiating crew let them play and Maryland was slow to comprehend just how physical Stanford can be.
When the Terps became more active on the boards, their pressure also kicked in, and their athleticism was evident on two sequences that made the MCI Center as loud as Cole Field House when North Carolina comes up.
In both instances, Profit controlled loose balls in the open court and tossed them toward his basket. Morris converted the first above the rim, Francis the second on a hanging effort that ended up a three-point play. Similar plays exhausted Francis at the end of a 37-minute stint, the longest by a Maryland player this season.
"You know, normally I don't play the last 10 minutes," Francis said.
Maryland finally had to work a full 40, and Williams wasn't complaining.
NOTES: Francis and Ekezie each made seven free throws without a miss, and Maryland made its first 13. The Terps set a tournament record with .850 shooting at the line, but they shot a season-low .417 from the field, .318 (7-for-22) in the second half. The Cardinal was not at full strength. Ryan Mends, the top three-point shooter in the Pacific-10 last season, was ruled out Saturday with tendinitis in his left knee.
At the MCI Center
No. 2 Maryland 62, No. 5 Stanford 60
DePaul 87, George Washington 79
Stanford vs. GW, 6, HTS
/# Maryland vs. DePaul, 8: 30, HTS
Pub Date: 12/07/98