Terps seek big per­for­mance af­ter star’s exit from stage

For­mer Mary­land guard Vasquez of­ten thrived against the Blue Devils

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - BY LIZ CLARKE clarkel@wash­post.com

Nearly 10 months have passed since Greivis Vasquez last suited up for Mary­land, but the point guard who was picked 28th in the NBA draft fol­low­ing a bril­liant four sea­sons in Col­lege Park still casts a long shadow over the Ter­rap­ins.

In Oc­to­ber, Coach Gary Wil­liams was bom­barded with ques­tions at the ACC’s pre­sea­son me­dia gath­er­ing about how he planned to re­place Vasquez’s scor­ing and lead­er­ship on a team with six new­com­ers. On Sun­day, when Mary­land trav­els to Cameron Indoor Sta­dium to face No. 1 Duke, the out­come will likely turn on how well Wil­liams has done just that.

Mary­land (10-4, 0-1) was the last team to beat Duke (14-0, 1-0), now rid­ing a 24-game win­ning streak. And Vasquez was a ma­jor rea­son why, scor­ing 20 points in the 79-72 vic­tory at Com­cast Cen­ter on March 3 that clinched a share of the ACC’s reg­u­lar sea­son ti­tle, capped a sto­ry­book Se­nior Day and sent thou­sands of deliri­ous stu­dents storm­ing onto the gym floor.

As Vasquez’s ca­reer pro­gressed, he thrived on tak­ing on the tough­est foes in the most hos­tile are­nas, de­spite the long­est odds.

That pas­sion for the im­prob­a­ble bared it­self the first time Vasquez played Duke as a fresh­man; he scored 18 points, then a ca­reer high, in Mary­land’s 72-60 home vic­tory on Feb. 11, 2007. Mary­land went on to sweep Duke that sea­son, with Vasquez com­ing within a re­bound of a triple-dou­ble as the Ter­rap­ins top­pled Duke at Cameron a few weeks later.

So it was only fit­ting Vasquez ended his ca­reer at Com­cast Cen­ter by spurring the up­set of fourth-ranked Duke lastMarch in what Dino Gre­gory, a co-cap­tain of this sea­son’s squad, con­sid­ers the biggest game ever played in the arena.

Said Wil­liams, when asked about Vasquez’s per­for­mances against Duke, “He was one of those guys — and not ev­ery­one is like that — who re­ally in a lot of big games would play his best game against the best teams.

“He grew up with chal­lenges. That be­came part of his na­ture — the chal­lenge of mov­ing to the U.S. [from Venezuela]; the chal­lenge of not speak­ing the lan­guage [flu­ently, at first]. He prob­a­bly took it per­son­ally, which is a great way to mo­ti­vate your­self: ‘ These guys think they’re bet­ter than us!’ or ‘Peo­ple think I’mnot a first-round draft choice,’ which a lot of peo­ple didn’t.”

Vasquez’s pres­ence en­dures months af­ter his col­lege ca­reer ended, found in the un­likely form of 6-10 sopho­more cen­ter Jor­dan Wil­liams, who leads the Ter­rap­ins in scor­ing (17.6 points per game) and re­bound­ing (11.8 per game) and con­sis­tently presents op­po­nents with a ma­jor headache in the paint. The sopho­more cred­its much of his devel­op­ment to what he learned from Vasquez, his room­mate on road trips dur­ing his fresh­man year.

“He just told me to watch what he was do­ing— not in an ar­ro­gant way, but about things I could do to help lead the team,” Wil­liams said of Vasquez. “He was like my big brother. He took me un­der his wing.”

It was a cal­cu­lated move on Vasquez’s part, Gary Wil­liams sus­pects. Mary­land’s se­niors are al­lowed to choose their room­mates for road games. Vasquez re­quested the big fresh­man with even big­ger po­ten­tial.

“Know­ing Greivis, he looked at it a lit­tle self­ishly,” Wil­liams said re­cently. “We needed a big guy that could play, and [ Vasquez] was ma­ture enough to see that if we could get Jor­dan to where he could re­bound and play, it would help the team.”

There are traces of Vasquez else­where on this sea­son’s squad, too, in the on-court swag­ger of fresh­men guards Pe’ShonHoward and Ter­rell Stoglin. Howard hit the game-win­ner with 4.6 sec­onds re­main­ing in a 75-74 win over Col­lege of Charleston onNov. 10.

“It must be that num­ber,” Jor­dan Wil­liams mused after­ward, re­fer­ring to the No. 21 that Howard wears. “Greivis wore that num­ber. So it must be that num­ber that makes you want to take those big shots. . . . He’s not scared to take it, and that’s huge to say for a fresh­man. Re­ally huge.”

Stoglin lacks Howard’s de­fen­sive heft but rep­re­sents a sorely needed three-point scor­ing threat (he has made 42.5 per­cent of his shots from be­yond the arc).

Still, the Ter­rap­ins’ half-court of­fense has been a work-in-progress with­out Vasquez, Hayes and Mil­bourne, whose chem­istry steeped for four years.

“A lot of times af­ter we run the plays, once it breaks down, we kind of get lost,” se­nior Cliff Tucker said af­terMary­land’s 79-75 loss to Bos­ton Col­lege on Dec. 12. “We don’t know who’s go­ing to get the ball, who’s go­ing to do what.”

That said, Mary­land shored up its chief weak­nesses in re­cent weeks. The team is get­ting off to quicker starts. Play­ers are com­mu­ni­cat­ing bet­ter on de­fense. They’ve cut down on turnovers, a nat­u­ral re­sult of get­ting to know one an­other’s ten­den­cies. And their free throw shoot­ing has gone from poor to merely medi­ocre.

Against Duke, how­ever, Mary­land will need to do just about ev­ery­thing well.

The Blue Devils have yet to show vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Af­ter los­ing highly touted fresh­man point guard Kyrie Irv­ing to in­jury, they’ve got­ten stronger, with Up­per Marl­boro’s Nolan Smith prov­ing to be the rare guard who can run the of­fense and lead the scor­ing at the same time.

The way Mary­land has been prac­tic­ing, Gre­gory be­lieves the Ter­rap­ins are ready for the chal­lenge of the No. 1 team and a 9,314-seat arena that’s as deaf­en­ing to op­po­nents as an 80,000seat domed NFL sta­dium.

“ The thing you can’t do is be afraid go­ing down to Duke,” Gre­gory said Satur­day. “And no­body on this team is afraid.”

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

“He was one of those guys— and not ev­ery­one is like that— who re­ally in a lot of big games would play his best game against the best teams.” Mary­land Coach Gary Wil­liams says of ex-Terp Greivis Vasquez, above.

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