By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 2009
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 20 -- No matter which Maryland locker stall you stopped at Friday afternoon, every Terrapin knew the background of Memphis reserve forward Pierre Henderson-Niles. They knew about the contract Henderson-Niles had to sign at the end of last season stating that he would remain on the team only if he met specific weight-loss goals. They knew he'd lost roughly 50 pounds over the summer.
And they knew that at 300 pounds, Henderson-Niles is still a load to handle.
"Oh my goodness, that guy," sophomore forward Dino Gregory said, shaking his head. "That dude is humongous."
Here's what Henderson-Niles knew about the Terrapins: "We really ain't talked too much about Maryland. We watched a little film on 'em one time, and I know they got a good player -- I don't know his name -- but he good or whatever, so we just going to try to do what we do and stop him. I ain't never seen them; I know they got one good player, Sanchez or something like that; whatever his name is."
During Saturday's NCAA tournament second-round matchup, Maryland and its best player -- whatever his name is -- will introduce themselves to Memphis, ranked No. 3 in the nation, winner of 61 straight conference games, veteran of last year's national championship game.
The Tigers have lost just three times this season. They are long, athletic and stingy on defense. They know it, too. Memphis players said Friday they would look to impose their will on the Terrapins, none of whose names they knew. Either by playing well or poorly, they would decide which team advanced to the round of 16.
Maryland players, on the other hand, spit out specific scouting reports on each of Memphis's starters, and even a few reserves. One of the Terrapins' defining qualities is their conscious understanding of their own deficiencies. They need to be self-aware, but they know they also can't afford to be caught off-guard.
Sophomore guard Adrian Bowie said he will guard Memphis's Doneal Mack, who "is a very good stand-still shooter." Freshman guard Sean Mosley will cover Antonio Anderson, Bowie said, a 6-foot-6 guard with "a good mid-range shot." And Maryland's other starting guard -- that "Sanchez" fellow -- will take on Tyreke Evans, according to Bowie. Evans, Bowie said, "likes to get to the basket as much as possible."
All of Memphis's guards like to penetrate into the lane, sophomore guard Cliff Tucker said. The Tigers get a lot of open looks by driving and passing back out to the perimeter.
"Our main focus," Tucker said, "is really just to stop their guards from getting into the paint."
On the other side of the Sprint Center, inside the Memphis locker room, the game plan was more ethnocentric.
"They got a great point guard and they got a good cast with him," Memphis forward Shawn Taggart said. "We just got to guard them and use our athletic abilities. We are way longer than them, so we should be easily rebounding and blocking shots and getting putbacks."
Indeed, Memphis has put its superior size and athleticism to good use this season. The Tigers lead the nation in field goal percentage defense, and they rank in the top 10 in scoring defense, three-point field goal percentage defense and blocked shots per game.
Some veteran Memphis players acknowledged Maryland has a few talented individuals, though names escaped them.
"They got some guard play," Memphis senior forward Robert Dozier said. "They got a big man who can step out and shoot it a little bit and they got an athletic four-man."
By now, the Terrapins have grown used to receiving little recognition, much less affirmation, of their strengths. Maryland was chided for most of the season for not possessing a conventional back-to-the-basket post player, for not defending three-point shots well in man-to-man defense and for the midseason struggles of its demonstrative marquee player -- you know, that one guy.
When informed that his name was not well known among opponents who would face him in less than 24 hours, junior guard Greivis Vasquez -- a two-time all-ACC second team selection who led his team in scoring, rebounding and assists this season -- returned fire.
"If they play in the ACC conference, they would have a losing record in the league; probably win all their games outside the league, but losing record in the league," Vasquez said. "The ACC is too tough. You can't just win games night in and night out because you're so athletic."
Vasquez's claims were rejected by Maryland Coach Gary Williams and dismissed by Memphis Coach John Calipari, but the message bled through regardless. The mercurial guard from the team fueled by its perceived slights responded loudly and with vigor. Vasquez defends his team -- his "family" -- with the same swagger Memphis displayed by not knowing his name.
The Tigers might not be as familiar with Vasquez as he and his teammates are with them, but Vasquez is confident the path the Terrapins took to get within a win of the Sweet 16 makes them more than qualified to compete on a level plane with one of the top teams in the nation.
"I like that," Vasquez said. "They will know my name. They'll know who I am [Saturday] on the court."