Assessing the value of Steve Blake to Maryland's basketball team, coach Gary Williams chooses to look past all the points, assists and steals the point guard has amassed as a four-year starter.
Clearly, one statistic stands above all the rest: 103-34, the Terrapins' record since Blake began running the offense at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season.
"We've won a lot of games these past four years, and he's been our point guard for just about every one of them," Williams said. "I don't think there's been a better point guard for their team than Steve has been for Maryland. I guess maybe because I was a point guard, maybe I have a different feel about what's important."
It's hard to argue with Williams' logic, given that the Terrapins lost four starters from last year's NCAA championship team and still advanced to the round of 16 for a third straight season.
Were it not for Blake, the lone returning starter and the school's career leader with 135 starts, Maryland would almost certainly have been ousted in the opening round by UNC-Wilmington.
Drew Nicholas made the game-winning basket, but his off-balance shot at the buzzer might have been meaningless if Blake hadn't nailed a 3-pointer on the Terrapins' previous possession.
"If you want to win, you need players who do a lot of things,'' Williams said. "Steve makes big shots."
Blake ranks fourth in Atlantic Coast Conference history with 969 career assists, but this year he's done more than just dish the ball. He's also averaged double figures in scoring for the first time, hitting several clutch baskets along the way.
"He doesn't make all his shots, but he makes all the big ones when the game is on the line," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose team faces Maryland on Friday. "He's a consummate-winner type guy. People may say he's not this or he's not that, but all he does is win."
Whether it be throwing an alley-oop pass, defending the opponent's best guard or sinking a pivotal jumper, Blake does what it takes to win. That's one reason why Maryland is 13-2 in NCAA tournament games over the past four seasons.
"I've had to do a lot of things, play the passing role and then shoot the ball this year," Blake said. "I like to think it shows that I'm a versatile player."
When he's on the court, the 6 foot 3 inch, 172-pounder doesn't back down.
"It's a very personal thing with him. He has a great competitive spirit," Williams said. "No matter who he plays against, he thinks he's the better player. That's a tremendous thing to have as an athlete, that kind of confidence. He has that little edge to him that all the great ones have."
Similar to Mateen Cleaves, who led Michigan State to the NCAA title in 2000.
"He is like Mateen in that respect because he'll do whatever it takes to win,'' Izzo said. "If he needs to hit a big three late, he'll hit it. If he needs to make a big pass late in the game, he will. If he needs to get a big steal late, he'll get it."
It's been a great run, but Blake is on the brink of closing out his stellar college career. Even if the Terrapins don't make a third straight trip to the Final Four, he has no regrets.
"I've had a lot of fun. It's been a great four years, both basketball-wise and socially," Blake said.
"I'm just very happy and glad I came here."
It's hard to predict whether Blake will move on to the NBA. Regardless, it's likely his jersey will soon be hung on the rafters of Maryland's Comcast Center.
"I hope he plays professionally next year, but please judge Steve on what he's done in college," Williams said. "It's great to be a great college player. It's a tremendous thing. It's something that stays with you the rest of your life."
By David Ginsburg
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.