Reserve Watkins rises to Terps' defense; Cagey senior shuts down Valpo center, contributes to surge late in 1st half; NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Brian Watkins didn't tear the roof off the Orlando Arena yesterday with any thunderous dunks or spectacular shots in his first appearance in an NCAA tournament game.

He simply came off the Maryland bench with 3: 38 left in the first half and helped change the complexion of the game with his muscle and grace under fire.

Watkins knew just how to handle Valparaiso's hulking 6-foot-11, 260-pound center Zoran Viskovic, who was consistently beating Lonny Baxter inside for baskets to keep the Crusaders in the game.

"If you let a guy that big catch the ball deep in the paint, all he has to do is take one dribble and score," said Watkins, a 6-foot-9 senior who has seen a little bit of everything in his collegiate career that began at Notre Dame.

Fifteenth-seeded Valparaiso was down by just 35-32 when Watkins got the call.

Viskovic had scored 10 points to keep the Mid-Continent Conference champs in the fight, but that was before he met Maryland's "Base" face-to-face.

"Base" is the nickname for Watkins, who was more than happy to push Viskovic away from the basket far enough to prevent him from turning in the lane and scoring.

It was Terrell Stokes who pinned the "Base" label on Watkins because he reminded Stokes of a friend from Philadelphia who had that nickname.

Watkins shut down Viskovic the rest of the first half while the Terps spurted to a 46-36 lead.

After Watkins provided the first-half spark, second-seeded Maryland (27-5) turned it on in the second half and rolled to an 82-60 victory to earn a berth opposite 10th-seeded Creighton.

Watkins played four more minutes in the second half and finished with three points, one rebound and one missing in action Viskovic in eight minutes.

Viskovic?

He was virtually through for the rest of the game, scoring only four points in the second half for 14, which was still enough to lead Valparaiso (23-9).

The Maryland coaches and players not only praised Watkins for his bulk and physical style, but they loved his talk on defense.

"Brian was the key to our defense during that late first-half stretch," said coach Gary Williams. "Because he was talking on defense and he got the other guys on the team talking. He played like he practices. You have to remember he has been going against Baxter [6-8, 250] and Obinna Ekezie [6-10, 262] in practice all season and knows what to do out there."

Maryland assistant coach Dave Dickerson said, "Brian's done it all year. He is one of the most vocal players on the team. He's been here four years and knows exactly what Gary Williams wants done on defense."

A seldom-used reserve, Watkins smiled a little amid all the praise.

But the Nashville, Tenn., product knew not to get too caught up in the moment. He has long since learned his role on the team.

Not even a clutch seven-point effort in a road victory over N.C. State in the first game without Ekezie on Feb. 10 changed his status.

When asked if he would like to come back next season since he is getting more playing time in his final days of eligibility, Watkins said with a laugh, "No. I've been around a long time. I've been around long enough. I just want to help this team get to the Final Four and win it. We've been to enough Sweet 16s and lost."

Pub Date: 3/12/99

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