Santa Clara 91, Maryland 79
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ The 28 points and 12 assists were incidental. Steve Nash’s most important work occurred 75 feet away from the basket.
Nash foiled Maryland’s tenacious press with his dribbling brilliance, often weaving through three-man traps and leading underdog Santa Clara to a 91-79 win Friday with pinpoint passing and 3-point shooting.
By breaking through the press, Nash allowed the Broncos to get into their beloved half-court offense. Once in that set, Santa Clara was in control of the first-round West Regional game.
``It wasn’t that easy, it took me a while,″ said Nash, who struggled for a few minutes before solving the press. ``Once you break that first trap, it’s open sailing.″
Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps lost in the opening round for the first time in 13 NCAA appearances, said Nash’s consistency and quickness were the keys.
``He can knife through a double team,″ Williams said. ``It’s not a 100-yard dash out there, it’s how you get from point A to B.″
Marlon Garnett added 18 points for Santa Clara (20-8), which broke open a close West Regional game with a 14-0 run midway through the second half. The Broncos built their lead to as many as 16 points in the second half.
Johnny Rhodes had 27 points for Maryland (17-13), which missed 10 of its 18 foul shots in the second half.
``We let those guys get a little comfortable with their shots, and we weren’t playing the defense we could have,″ Rhodes said. ``We didn’t have confidence and I thought everything from there on was just a disaster.″
Nash added six rebounds and two steals, including one he made while sitting on the court. The Canadian point guard, often compared to the NBA’s John Stockton, also led crowd cheers throughout the second half.
The one ominous sign for Santa Clara was Nash clutching his sore left hamstring several times in the game’s closing minutes. Nash said he did not reinjure the hamstring, which forced him to skip most of practice Thursday.
Nash was recruited only by Santa Clara out of high school in Victoria, British Columbia, and his letters to dozens of U.S. schools were met with a collective shrug.
Nash, an 88 percent foul shooter this season, missed his first free throw Friday and then hit 17 straight. The Broncos outscored Maryland 34-10 at the foul line.
``He’s a little different than most guys in the ACC who look for their shot more,″ said Maryland’s Duane Simpkins. ``He’s very smart. He drives to the hoop, gets bumped and goes to the line.″
Santa Clara, a 7,700-student Catholic university about 35 miles south of San Francisco, shocked Arizona in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament and stunned defending champion UCLA in its season opener this year.
Friday’s win over Maryland was a mild upset. The Terps were the region’s seventh seed, Santa Clara is 10th.
The Broncos led 35-31 at halftime. Maryland took a 36-35 lead, but Keith Booth and Obinna Ekezie quickly picked up their fourth fouls for the Terps and Nash hit a pair of 3-pointers as Santa Clara regained the lead.
The big run began with the Broncos up 48-47. With 14:14 left, Garnett hit a 3-pointer and Drew Zurek was fouled underneath on the play. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Maryland was called for a lane violation. Zurek then hit two free throws.
The five-point play fired up the Broncos, who had built their lead to 62-47 when Maryland finally scored with 11:19 remaining. Maryland never got closer than 10 points the rest of the game.
Nash had 10 points and six assists in the first half. Santa Clara struggled against the Maryland press on its opening few possessions, but solved it within minutes.
With the Terrapins trailing 26-23 and looking stagnant on offense, Williams ditched the press with four minutes left in the half. The Terps hit their next two shots, but Santa Clara again adapted and regained the lead.
Maryland reintroduced the press in the second half, but it was never as effective again.