By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, March 7 -- Dave Neal heard the call from the sideline: "Black," a screen-and-roll designed for Greivis Vasquez, the player Neal said has carried the Terrapins all season. Neal scooted out to the perimeter and waited.
Black is a play designed to attack a zone defense, such as the one that tormented Maryland for most of Saturday's 68-63 loss at Virginia. But the Cavaliers deviated and instituted a man-to-man scheme. Vasquez refused the screen, his eyes wide as Virginia guard Calvin Baker stuck to his side no matter what movement he made.
Maryland Coach Gary Williams barked out an adjustment, a scheme better suited to break down such a defensive alignment, but by then it was too late. Vasquez darted toward the basket and missed a layup.
"We were down by three, and I think there was like 20 seconds left," Neal said. "You get kind of nervous and just want to throw up a shot, and that's what he did."
Neal said he had no problem with Vasquez taking that shot in that circumstance, and Williams also made clear that the most devastating loss of Maryland's season should not fall solely on Vasquez's shoulders.
Rather, the Terrapins (18-12, 7-9 ACC) were upset with a bevy of flaws -- from insufficient effort to deficient offensive aggressiveness -- that wreaked havoc on their NCAA tournament aspirations. The loss to Virginia (10-17, 4-12) instead created a situation Williams did not want to acknowledge, but one of which his players were painfully aware.
"We know, we know," said Vasquez, who tallied a team-high 21 points on 8-of-20 shooting. "We're mature about it. We knew it was our win to seal the deal, and now we got to win the ACC tournament. We might have to make something impossible possible. . . . At least two good wins would get us back in [NCAA tournament discussion], but we've got to show people we can play night in, night out. We've got to prove it again."
Such atonement is necessary after a contest in which Maryland firmly controlled the first 15 minutes before succumbing to a key Virginia adjustment. The Terrapins were forcing turnovers and scoring at will out of their flex offense.
Maryland extended its lead to 13 points with just more than six minutes left in the half, and around that time, the Cavaliers moved to a zone defense. The Terrapins, Williams said, became "stiff." They stopped driving to the basket with the sense of purpose used to construct their lead. Patience ran low. Shots were fired too early.
"It's a game where you look at the start of the game and it's almost like it's too easy, where you think that's going to continue," Williams said. "We got away a little bit when they went on their run in the first half of trying to run our offense properly when they were in their zone."
The Cavaliers went on an 11-0 run and trailed by a single point at halftime.
Led by senior swingman Mamadi Diane, who finished with a game-high 23 points, Virginia continued to befuddle the Terrapins with its zone. For once this season, Maryland was the team collecting a horde of second-chance scoring opportunities, but it did little good. Maryland shot 37.5 percent in the second half.
Williams said the onus was squarely on his team. It wasn't so much that the Cavaliers shut down the Terrapins, he said, but that the Terrapins shut down themselves.
"We didn't play hard, man," Vasquez said. "We didn't play hard and then we slowed down when they went zone."
Virginia's zone proved so effective that Maryland was nearly certain the Cavaliers would turn to it with the game on the line. The Terrapins had one timeout remaining when Diane sank a three-point shot to put Virginia up by three with 38.5 seconds left in the game. But Vasquez took the inbound pass and scurried down the court.
He heard Williams, and he saw Neal. But he felt Baker. After briefly searching for an open shot, Vasquez aborted that plan and took the quickest route to the basket.
The approach that worked so well early against Virginia's man-to-man defense did not bear fruit late. Instead, an awkward and heavily contested shot left the Terrapins to wonder what could have been.
"I take responsibility on that play," Vasquez said. "I should be able to run a good play, but I got confused. I didn't know what we were running. You know, I take it upon myself. That play was on me, but the whole game, we needed eight guys to be ready to play, and I don't think we had it tonight."