Whether it was beating Illinois and Duke when he was a sophomore or Connecticut in the East Regional final to keep his college career alive, Juan Dixon always had a flair for the dramatic, and the final three-pointer of his magnificent run at the University of Maryland went down as the biggest shot of the 2002 Final Four.
There was no doubt that the senior from Calvert Hall would be named the Most Outstanding Player at the climax of the college basketball season, not after he cooled off a surging Indiana team with two clutch baskets that seemed to soften the hardened Hoosiers.
"You can't have the fear of failure in those situations," coach Gary Williams said. "It was just like the Connecticut game. Not every big scorer wants to take those shots. Juan has never backed down. The crowd was getting into it. We needed something big, and Juan produced."
Dixon's long three tied Connecticut with less than four minutes remaining March 24 at the Carrier Dome. That was probably the biggest shot in Maryland's postseason history, but he provided a bookend after Indiana had taken its only lead of the game, at 44-42.
Dixon had been denied a point for 20 minutes by Dane Fife. Indiana's defensive stopper had mirrored Dixon's every move, but after Jared Jeffries had gotten by Chris Wilcox, Fife gambled and double-teamed Maryland point guard Steve Blake. Blake stepped through the double team, got the ball to Dixon and Fife could not recover, as Dixon swished a long three from the left side that put Maryland back on top to stay at 45-44 with 9:40 remaining.
"Steve Blake made a great play," Dixon said. "He was able to break the trap when my man helped. I made a great shot and we were able to get the lead back. ... A lot of guys got tensed at times, I told them to `calm down, we are going to win, make plays at the right time.' We certainly did."
Dixon wasn't done. After Fife scored on a putback, Dixon beat him off the dribble on the left side, pushing Maryland's lead back up to 49-46 with 8:10 left. Fife nonetheless played brilliantly, as he limited Dixon to nine shots, which matched his season low in games that weren't Maryland blowouts.
"He's been coming up big for them all year," Indiana forward Kyle Hornsby said of Dixon. "Dane did a good job. I noticed a couple of plays he was the only one on one side of the floor. I don't think that anyone can guard him one-on-one. I don't know if I would want anyone but Dane Fife guarding guys like him and [Duke's] Jason Williams."
Dixon had 18 points, his tournament low, but it was still a game high. He was charged with seven turnovers, his most in 2002, but he contributed five rebounds, five steals and three assists during a 38-minute stint.
Dixon had the ball in his hands as the game ended, and flung it high into the air before he and Lonny Baxter, his partner in the quest to bring Maryland an NCAA title, hugged and rolled on the floor.
His pressure-packed three didn't come at the end, like Dunbar's Reggie Williams did for Georgetown against Houston in the 1984 championship game. It was still a defining moment for a Baltimorean who lost his parents to drug abuse and wasn't highly recruited, but left Maryland with a record 2,269 points, 238 three-pointers and an NCAA trophy.
"I grew up a lot in college," Dixon said. "I grew so much. A lot of people back home counted me out. I went out there and got better each year, led my team to the national championship. It's a great feeling, man. I'm speechless. I really don't know what to say, [but] I'm going to talk forever."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times