Three things we learned from Maryland-Cal NCAA tourney game
Playing in the ACC prepared Maryland for the rigors of postseason play
Unsung Terps forward Dave Neal again made a significant contribution
Cal guard Jermone Randle showed why he's one of the Pac-10's best
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Gary Williams isn't the most placid coach in college basketball.
Sample monologue from today's 84-71 win over Cal: "WHY WON'T YOU COVER SOMEBODY? WHAT IS SO HARD? SHUT UP!" But don't mistake his near-constant apoplexy for inflexibility. When change seems necessary, Maryland's battle-tested head coach knows exactly which buttons to press.
Against Cal, the most lethal three-point shooting team in the country (43.8 percent), Williams gladly scrapped Maryland's lackluster man-to-man defense mid-game and switched to a match-up zone. Result? The customarily deadeye Bears shot 7-for-24 from beyond the arc (29.2 percent), sapping any chances of a Cal rally.
"It was a gamble because the score was close [at the time]," Williams said. "I just didn't feel good about the way we were playing man-to-man defense."
And last month, Williams also acceded to the wishes of 6-foot-6 star guard Greivis Vasquez, handing the loping Venezuelan the keys to the Terrapins' creaky offense. Result? A late-season surge in the ACC Tournament -- including a huge win over Wake Forest in Atlanta -- and one notably dominant afternoon today. (Vasquez's final line: 27 points on 10-21 shooting, five boards and four assists.)
Maryland has plenty of deficiencies, of course -- it lacks a signature post presence, desperately needs Vasquez to keep showing All-ACC talent and relies on its flotilla of guards to score in bunches (the team is now 18-2 when hitting the 70-plus point mark) -- but it sure helps when your coach has the experience to audible at the line.
Even when that audible involves a lot of words that would make your grandma blush.
Three things we learned:
1. The Terps proudly represent their conference. In the waning seconds of the game, the Maryland crowd started chanting "ACC! ACC!" -- an extra slap in the face to the Pac-10 (on top of, you know, the 13-point loss). The guys on the court felt similarly indebted. "To me it's the best league in the whole nation," Vasquez said after the game. "We have that toughness from playing in our league."
2. Dave Neal isn't the archetype, but he gets it done. Maryland's frontcourt has long been the topic of recruiting chatter because its roster down low primarily consists of fan favorite Neal, whose weight (263) seems appropriate only when not paired with his height (6'7). That said, the crafty senior -- who is artfully described in some circles as "thick" -- is arguably the glue to this team. And he knows his physical limitations.
"I've gone against guys three inches taller than me the whole entire season," Neal said. "I'm not going to jump over anybody, not going to do something spectacular." But he will drop 15 points on you, as he did today.
3. Jerome Randle is one steely-eyed dervish. In complete contrast to Williams -- who enjoyably approximated all the subtlety of an imploding star -- Cal's miniature point guard darted around the floor with a look of utter tranquility on his face. The allegedly 5-10 Randle didn't have his best game (14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and seven assists), but he showed the lightning speed and slick stroke on long threes that slotted him third in the Pac-10 in scoring and first in assists.
Player Who Impressed Me
America, meet Vasquez. The Caracas native can certanly come off as unsavory -- at certain points in today's game, he seemed flat-out petulant when the ball didn't come his way -- and his crooked jumper may not be as pretty as Randle's, for instance. But with a line of 17.2-5.5-5.1, he's the Terps' engine and a perpetual triple-double threat (see Maryland's 88-85 OT win over UNC in February).
A few more Williams favorites: "WAKE UP" (as suddenly yelled at quiet reserves who are just sitting unassumingly on the bench); "YOU GUYS DON'T WANT TO BE HERE. YOU DON'T LIKE THIS, DO YOU?" (screamed directly into one player's face); "GET HIM OUT! GET HIM OUT NOW" (about pretty much any sub); "DAMN YOU, YOU DUMB***" (when one player didn't rotate fast enough on defense).
Memphis, which looked mighty vulnerable against Cal State Northridge. Though Williams said he didn't get a chance to watch the game, the Terps and Matadors share a couple similar characteristics that apparently blend well with what the Tigers offer: no dominant post presence and a guard-heavy lineup that can shoot. If Vasquez can out-duel freshman phenom Tyreke Evans -- and Memphis gunner Roburt Sallie, who dropped 35 on 10 threes, runs cold -- watch out.
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