KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Maryland didn’t force a lot of turnovers, didn’t block a bunch of shots, didn’t even create a lot of mistakes.
What the Terps did to California was much more subtle: They disrupted the Bears’ rhythm.
It might not sound like much, but against a streak-shooting team like Cal it can make all the difference.
Grievis Vasquez provided the offense with 27 points and Maryland used its press to shut down the nation’s best 3-point shooting team, rolling to an 84-71 victory over Cal in the first round of the West Regional on Thursday.
“I don’t truthfully know if Maryland did anything different than other (teams) did, but they got us out of our rhythm a little bit,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “Maybe that’s a consequence of their press, but we never seemed to get in any sort of rhythm. It’s very difficult for us to compete against a good team without shooting the ball well.”
Tenth-seeded Maryland (21-13) knew what it was up against. Cal was the nation’s best-shooting team from 3-point range during the regular season, hitting 43 percent. When the Bears won, it was because they shot well from the perimeter. When they lost, it was because the opponent had kept their shooters from getting hot.
Using its press to disrupt Cal’s offensive flow, the Terps rarely gave the Bears a good look from the perimeter and shored up some early interior defensive breakdowns to win a battle of guard-oriented teams. Vasquez controlled the offense, Dave Neal added 15 points and Eric Hayes had 14 to help Maryland advance past the first round in its ninth straight NCAA appearance.
The Terps will face No. 2 seed Memphis on Saturday.
“We came into the game knowing we were going to pressure them the whole game,” Neal said. “We knew they would have a tough time with it.”
After finishing ninth in the Pac-10 last year, Cal (22-11) put together an impressive run in its first season under Montgomery—a former coach at rival Stanford—to get into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. Montgomery took advantage of an athletic, undersized team by spreading the floor to set up his perimeter shooters, who knocked them down more often than not.
Against Maryland, they didn’t.
Off the mark from the start, Cal never found a rhythm and shot 7-for-24 from 3-point range, its fourth-lowest percentage from beyond the arc this season. Theo Robertson led the Bears with 22 points and Jerome Randle had 14, but took just three shots in the second half.
“They did a good job of mixing it up,” said Cal guard Patrick Christopher, who was 0-for-7 from 3-point range. “They had a couple of different presses. It just kind of messed us up offensively.”
Maryland figured to be a good matchup for the Bears. The Terps, like Cal, are undersized and like to get out in the open floor when they can.
The problem for Cal was Maryland’s pressure.
The Terps like to run a full-court press off made shots and Cal was shaky against it early. But turnovers weren’t what hurt the Bears—they had just 14. Cal just couldn’t get comfortable.
Randle misfired on the first 3-pointer of the game and the Bears kept missing, finishing 3-for-13 in the first half. Christopher and Robertson hit consecutive 3s early in the second half to keep Cal close, but the misses started again and Maryland pulled away.
“If we’re not shooting the ball well, we struggle, which was clearly the case tonight,” Montgomery said.
The game’s marquee matchup was supposed to between Vasquez and Randle.
They lived up to the billing—at least in the first half.
Vasquez was his usual crafty self, tossing in off-balanced jumpers against good defense and flipping up quick shots over taller defenders inside. The “Venezuelan Sensation” had 11 points at halftime, helping Maryland to a three-point lead despite hitting 12-of-32 from the floor.
Randle, the smallest player on the court at 5-foot-10, was the third-best 3-point shooter in the country during the regular season. The Terps extended their defense to stop him, so Randle went around them, using a lightning-quick crossover to get in the lane for a variety of scoop shots and layups.
Maryland paid more attention to Randle in the second half, keeping Cal’s leading scorer from darting inside while staying with him on the perimeter. Randle took one shot in the first 12 minutes and finished 2-for-3 from the floor in the second half.
Vasquez never let up, slithering his way through Maryland’s defense.
He took the ball from Randle and scored on a layup to cap a 12-2 spurt that put the Terps up 63-53, then scored on a three-point play after Adrian Bowie tracked down his own missed free throw and flipped a pass over his shoulder— while on top of a Cal defender. Vasquez followed with a no-look pass on the break to Eric Hayes, who hit the layup to put the Terps up 70-59 with 6 1/2 minutes left.
Vasquez finished 10-for-21 from the floor and added five rebounds and four assists to help Maryland reach the second round. Not bad for a team that had coach Gary Williams under fire for playing poorly just two months earlier.
“With every team I’ve ever coached, I coach through the season, trying to get better with every practice,” Williams said. “Some teams buy into that better than others. These guys have bought into the idea that you can get better during the season.”