Inside Maryland's locker room Sunday, Adrian Branch was talking passionately about knowing he was playing his final college basketball games. "This is the last go-round," he said. "I didn't want it to end here."
Outside the locker room, his father Charles, who had wept after Maryland's overtime victory Friday over Miami of Ohio in the Southeast Regional, was talking about luck and destiny and 1983. "Remember N.C. State in 1983," he said. "This team is doing the same thing."
Four games away from a national championship and two games away from the Final Four, which has been to him as The Promised Land was to Moses, Coach Lefty Driesell doesn't want to hear anything about destiny or 1983 or, as he so eloquently put it yesterday, "all that junk."
Driesell just wants to talk Villanova, Villanova, Villanova. That is who the Terrapins play Friday night in the first regional semifinal in Birmingham (North Carolina plays Auburn in the second game), and Driesell doesn't want anyone talking about the Final Four, another game with North Carolina Coach Dean Smith or anything that goes beyond Ed Pinckney and company.
"All that destiny stuff is just ridiculous," Driesell said yesterday. "If we don't beat Villanova, we're outta here, simple as that. The only approach you can take in the NCAA tournament is not to worry about anyone or anything outside of the next team you're playing."
Even as he spoke, Driesell sat with his assistant coaches going over film of the Wildcats.
There shouldn't be too much studying necessary. The teams played in Cole Field House in January, Maryland winning, 77-74, behind 30 points from Len Bias. Driesell insists that game will have little to do with this one.
"It doesn't make any difference except we're a little more familiar with each other," he said. "They have to do the things they do well to win and so do we. Fact is, if we don't play better than we did last weekend, we won't win."
Fact is, he's right. The Terrapins blew an 11-point lead against Miami and needed a near-miraculous finish in overtime to beat the Redskins. They dropped 11 points behind Navy Sunday before Bias took over and the Midshipmen wore down in the second half.
Neither Miami nor Navy is comparable in talent to Villanova, which beat Dayton on its home court and third-ranked Michigan, the top seed in the regional, to get this far.
"We played average this weekend, no better," Driesell said. "We won because we did a good job keeping our poise at the end in both games. But there are guys who are going to have to play better if we want to keep going."
Driesell practically worked his team to exhaustion last week, practicing twice Tuesday. He is taking the opposite tack this week. He gave his players Monday off -- meaning they had the entire day free since the university is on spring break this week -- and didn't bring them back until late yesterday afternoon.
Maryland is 25-11, two games shy of the 27 victories accumulated by the 1972 team that won the National Invitation Tournament. If the Terrapins reach the Final Four, they will equal the most victories any Driesell-coached team has had. But that gets back into "all that junk," and Driesell isn't discussing it.
Others are. With Michigan gone, with Kansas gone, with North Carolina playing without injured guard Steve Hale, this is the most wide open of regionals.
"We feel like we can play with anyone," Branch said. "Even the games we lost this season, just about every one we were in to the end. Villanova's certainly very tough but we know we can play with them because we beat them once. We have to be thinking there's a reason we're still alive."
A team that survives when it isn't playing at its best often gets better as the tournament goes on. The other three teams in this regional needed optimum efforts to get this far.
"That's all just talk," Driesell said. "I'm not thinking about any of that stuff because I can't control it. I have enough complex things going on in my life without worrying about things I can't control. All I want to do is make sure we play as well as we possibly can against Villanova."
Driesell did solve some things he can control last weekend. He finally realized that point guard Keith Gatlin needs to remain in games to be effective and for the team to be effective. Gatlin played 84 of a possible 85 minutes and had 22 assists. Driesell also realized that Jeff Adkins' smarts, guts and savvy add to the team. That was never more evident than in the Miami game when Adkins, a senior guard, pulled the team together to overcome a three-point deficit in the final 37 seconds when everyone else was ready to quit.
Now, the Terrapins are back in the final 16. The last two times they got this far, 1980 and last year, they lost. In each case, it was to a team most people felt they could beat -- Georgetown in 1980 and Illinois in '84. Once again, that is the case. Villanova is a good, veteran team, but certainly beatable.
Everyone in College Park is aware of that. Everyone also knows that North Carolina or Auburn in the final also would be beatable. But no one even wants to breathe a word about anything except Villanova.
Too much talk about The Promised Land and the players know that Moses -- er, Driesell -- will bring wrath down upon his flock.