ATLANTA, March 30 (UPI) -- Juan Dixon steadied Maryland after a miserable start Saturday night and the Terrapins then avoided what would have been a second straight devastating collapse in the Final Four to down Kansas, 97-88, and advance to the NCAA Tournament's championship game for the first time in the 79-year history of the school's basketball program.
Maryland will play for the national title Monday night against the surprising Indiana Hoosiers, who used an amazing effort from their bench players in the evening's first semifinal game to down the Oklahoma Sooners, 73-64.
While the Terrapins will be appearing in the national championship game for the first time, Indiana has played in the last game of the season five times. The Hoosiers have won all five.
Three of those national championships were won under the guidance of legendary coach Bob Knight, who was fired by the school two years ago after a career known more for its controversy than for its NCAA crowns. Former Knight assistant Mike Davis has coached the Hoosiers to a very unexpected chance at basketball history.
To win it all, however, the Hoosiers must deal with a team that for a majority of the evening made it look easy against the Jayhawks.
Maryland turned the ball over on four of its first five possessions, surrendered three three-point shots and found themselves facing a 13-2 deficit four minutes into the game.
But Dixon scored 10 straight Maryland points to get his team back in the game and his three-point shot with 7:21 left in the first half gave the Terrapins their first lead at 26-25.
Dixon scored 19 points of his 33 points in the first half as the Terrapins built a 44-37 lead at intermission. The Jayhawks were within 60-55 with 12:09 to play, but a three-point shot by Steven Blake touched off a 10-point run that appeared to end the Jayhawks' hopes.
But after Maryland took a 20-point lead with less than seven minutes to go, Kansas shockingly rallied to within five points on a three-point shot by Jeff Boschee with 2:03 left.
Dixon then took an ill-advised three-pointer early in Maryland's next possession and when he missed it, Kansas had a chance to draw closer. But the Jayhawks' Aaron Miles skidded on a slippery court that was a problem all night and he was called for traveling, a call that finally wiped out Kansas' comeback bid.
At the same stage of the NCAA Tournament last year, in its first trip to the Final Four, Maryland built a 22-point lead over the Duke Blue Devils only to let it slip away.
"We said if we were ever in that position again, a 20- or 22-point lead, we would find a way to win," Dixon said. "We grew a lot in the last year or so."
"When that buzzer went off, we could celebrate," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "How you do it doesn't matter. You get through it. You win it any way you can and that is what we did."
Chris Wilcox added 18 for Maryland, which dominated inside with 38 points in the paint compared with 28 for the Jayhawks. Kansas was led by 21 points from Nick Collison, 17 from Boschee and 15 by Drew Gooden.
The Jayhawks failed to get the monkey off Coach Roy Williams' back. He has yet to win a national title in his 14 seasons in Lawrence.
"A lot of guys make fun of me this time of year because I'm crying," Williams said. "Dadgum right, because these kids mean so much to me. It hurts not to be playing on Monday night. It just hurts because I am not going to get a chance to coach them again."
In the night's first semifinal, Jeff Newton paced the amazing effort by members of the Indiana bench and the Hoosiers broke open a tie game with a seven-point run inside the three-minute mark.
Despite being a substantial underdog, the fifth-seeded Hoosiers overcame an early deficit, warmed up from three-point range in the second half and finally repelled an Oklahoma charge in the final minutes.
The Sooners scored seven in a row to tie the game at 60-60 and had a chance to take the lead when Daryan Selvy went to the line for a one-and-one free-throw opportunity. But Selvy missed the first attempt, Indiana rebounded and Newton broke free inside for a layup that put Indiana ahead for good with 2:47 to play.
Indiana freshman guard Donald Perry then made a layup of his own with 2:05 to go and, after Oklahoma's Hollis Price had a three-point attempt rattle in and out, Newton was fouled and made two free throws to give the Hoosiers a six-point lead and virtually wrap up the upset.
"When it got to 60-60, I thought we'd win the game," said Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team finished at 31-5. "The big possessions, big plays down the stretch, they made them and we didn't."
Newton, who played in his home city in front of 54,000 at the Georgia Dome, produced 19 points to lead the Hoosiers in scoring and fellow substitutes Donald Perry and A.J. Moye had 10 and nine. The Indiana bench outscored the team's starters, 41-32.
"Newton was big," Indiana coach Mike Davis said. "That's probably the best game I've seen Jeff play."
Perry filled in for star guard Tom Coverdale, who started the contest despite a badly sprained ankle but who managed just three points in 17 minutes. In addition to Coverdale being slowed, Moye left the game in the second half with a slight hamstring pull and did not return.
Indiana battled through all that adversity, however, and took advantage of a poor shooting night by Oklahoma's outstanding backcourt of Hollis Price and Quannas White. Price made just one of 11 shots from the field and White was one of five.
Aaron McGhee was the only major scoring threat for the Sooners all night, finishing with 22 points. But he played in foul trouble throughout the second half and picked up his fifth foul with 4:35 to play.
Indiana, trying to become the first No. 5 seed to win the NCAA Tournament, reached the national semifinals with a shocking three-point shooting display against Kent State in which the Hoosiers made 15 of 19. In the opening minutes Saturday night, however, Indiana struggled from the field.
The Hoosiers missed four of their first five shots, turned the ball over five times in the first eight minutes and went 5:30 without a field goal as Oklahoma broke on top.
Indiana did not even attempt a three-point shot for the first 10 minutes and did not make one until 12:15 had gone by.
Nevertheless, Indiana battled back from a 17-11 deficit and took a 26-24 lead on a slam by George Leach. Oklahoma then ran off eight straight points -- all on free throws -- and took a 34-30 lead at the half that would have been larger had not Jarrad Odle hit a three-point shot at the buzzer for Indiana.
The three-point magic returned in the second half for Indiana as Jared Jeffries, Coverdale, Dane Fife and Moye all hit one during the first five minutes to draw the Hoosiers even. Indiana made eight of 15 for the game from three-point range while Oklahoma was just two of 19.
"We went 2-for-19 from the three tonight. That's a little disappointing," Sampson said. "The 15-for-19 they had against Kansas State was no fluke. They're an excellent three-point shooting team."