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Allow Terps their chance to gloat

March 5, 2010 12:36 am

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Maryland's Greivis Vasquez celebrates a basket in the Terps' victory over Duke at the Comcast Center Wednesday.

COLLEGE PARK, Md,--

Finally, the truth can be told.

"I probably shouldn't say this, because we may play them in them in the ACC tournament," Greivis Vasquez admitted late Thursday night, "but I like Duke."

Not half as much as he enjoys beating the Blue Devils.

Maybe that's because he hadn't done it often. Before Thursday night's storybook senior night 79-72 victory, Vasquez's Terrapins had lost five straight games to Duke. A sixth would have handed the Blue Devils the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and the top seed in next week's tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Instead, Maryland (22-7, 12-3) can earn at least a share of its first crown since 2002 with a victory at slumping Virginia tomorrow--and can win it outright if Duke loses to North Carolina.

Not bad for a bunch of guys who believe the world is against them, huh? For a coach whose fan base was calling for his head last season--even though he led his alma mater to its only national title eight years ago. For a star player who was criticized for being too undisciplined and volatile.

"I'm really proud of this team," coach Gary Williams said. "They've been told they're not very good for a while now. Not many people gave us a chance, but we stuck together."

It's true the Terps have taken their lumps, on and off the court, since 2002. Williams didn't exactly parlay the national title and new arena into a recruiting bonanza, and his players often stagnated, rarely making noticeable improvement.

Until this year. With senior guards Vasquez and Eric Hayes leading the way, the 2009-10 Terps have played smart, largely error-free games.

And they've played with a collective chip on their shoulders, thanks to their leaders. If ever a player were an extension of his coach, it's Vasquez.

The Comcast Center was as loud and profane as it's ever been Thursday night, and the Terps fed off that emotion. No one did more so than Vasquez, who didn't enjoy his best night (20 points on 6-for-13 shooting), but made a couple of off-balance daggers in the final moments. One was a fallaway bank shot (over Duke's Jon Scheyer, his chief rival for ACC player of the year). Neither was a textbook jumper, but Vasquez rarely does anything by the book.

"I taught him one of those shots," Williams quipped. "I can't remember which one. They're not ideal shots, but that shows you he wants the ball when the game is on the line. He thinks they're OK, so I'm OK with them, too."

Vasquez may have gotten a leg up on Scheyer, who scored 19 points Wednesday but was just 7-for-21 from the floor with four turnovers and just two assists.

But Vasquez doesn't deserve all the credit. The oft-maligned Williams outcoached Mike Krzyzewski, using a four-guard lineup for parts of the second half to negate Duke's size and defend its dangerous 3-point shooting off high ball screens.

Williams also used his bench liberally and got strong efforts from Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory, showing his players do get better.

"I think their kids are really good competitors. I mean really good," Krzyzewski said. "They are an extension of their coach, and Gary does such a good job with them."

After reveling with the students who swarmed the floor, Vasquez was even more emotional than usual. He has endured a sine curve of experiences at Maryland, but he may well go out as a champion--and the school's career scoring leader.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "I don't have bad feelings against anyone."

Whoa--red flag. Is this a kinder, gentler Vasquez? Are he and his coach getting soft and warm?

That would be a bad thing. Maryland's raison d'etre is to disprove its critics. They don't want to become victims of their own success.

Don't sweat it. There's still plenty of fire in Vasquez and Williams--and, perhaps, even a little mercy.

"All this stuff happens for a reason," Vasquez said. "I've learned from it. I'm not disappointed. All the people who talked bad about us, we forgive them."

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443
Email: sdeshazo@freelancestar.com





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