Blend of Defensive Schemes Against Cal Keeps Maryland in the Mix in First-Round NCAA Game

Maryland begins its NCAA tournament run with an 84-71 win over the California Golden Bears, but the Terps fall short just two days later, overrun by No. 2 seed Memphis, 89-70, in Kansas City.
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 2009; 11:38 AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 20 -- Members of a sullen and defeated California squad attempted to explain late Thursday afternoon how a team that survives on offensive rhythm could find none against Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

They theorized, one by one, that it could have been the intangible characteristics that the Terrapins seemed to possess in abundance -- their drive or their passion or their determination. But each summation eventually reached one overarching conclusion: The Golden Bears were discombobulated nearly from start to finish by Maryland's blend of relentless pressure defenses.

"I think it was a mixture of their press, and that kind of slowed us down and got us out of our offense a little bit," California guard Patrick Christopher said. "So I mean, they did a great job of that as far as mixing it up."

Throughout the season, Maryland has leaned on its bevy of defensive schemes to force turnovers and kick-start a fluid transition attack that often had to compensate for a half-court offense lagging in development.

Personnel matchups typically decided whether the Terrapins were successful in hounding opposing squads into mistakes, and one in particular weighed heavily in Maryland's favor against the Golden Bears.

California point guard Jerome Randle is listed at 5 feet 10 -- though Coach Mike Montgomery characterized him as 5-8 in his postgame press conference -- and for all of Randle's prodigious ballhandling mastery and long-range shooting talent, he simply could not always see the full range of the court through the blur of red jerseys that surrounded him following inbound passes.

"Being a shorter guard -- nothing knocking him; he's a great player -- but when you trap him he has a tough time looking over the trap and we knew that," Terrapins senior forward Dave Neal said. "We came into this game knowing we were going to pressure them the whole entire game. We knew they were going to have a tough time with it."

The Golden Bears committed two turnovers in the contest's first 93 seconds, one of which came via a back-court violation as California rushed to get the ball across the midline in the allotted 10 seconds.

Maryland alternated between full-court and three-quarter-court traps at the start. Then the Terrapins suddenly backed off the press all together. The combination of looks made the Golden Bears hesitant from the moment they got the ball in play.

"That was a big thing," sophomore forward Dino Gregory said. "We gave California a different look, something they weren't really used to the whole game. We started pressing, then back to man-to-man, then pressing, then back to zone. It kind of messed them up. They couldn't really get the hang of it, couldn't really get in a flow, while we were getting momentum the whole time."

Just less than seven minutes into the first half, Maryland hassled Randle in a full-court press, with Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne surrounding him instantaneously upon receiving the ball. With no line of sight and nowhere to go, Randle heaved the ball over his head, hoping his pass somehow would find one of his California teammates.

Instead, the ball sailed out of bounds.

"We didn't handle it too great," Randle said. "I feel like I should have been a leader out there and got everybody in the right positions, but I mean, it wasn't really a tough press. We just didn't, you know, handle it well, so I just feel like we should have just been smarter and just got the ball in the right spots when we needed to. It definitely hurt us."

Maryland temporarily ceased pressing California at the start of the second half, and the Golden Bears seized the opportunity. California trailed by three at halftime and took its first lead of the game with 14 minutes 46 seconds remaining.

But eventually the Terrapins returned to the white-knuckled approach that had served them so well early on. With just more than seven minutes remaining, California forward Theo Robertson stood underneath the Maryland basket, searching for someone in a white jersey to whom he could inbound the ball. He looked right; he looked left. He peered all the way down to the other end of the court. Everyone was covered.

The whistle blew, and Robertson was called for a five-second violation. Maryland ball.

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