Maryland-California Set to Face Off Thursday in NCAA Tourney First-Round Game
March 18, 2009
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Cal's Jerome Randle is a blur on the court, makes 3-pointers like they're layups, plays with a fearlessness bred from the playgrounds of Chicago.
Greivis Vasquez is a fiery competitor from Venezuela, a flashy playmaker who occasionally catches teammates off guard with no-look passes, the key reason Maryland is in the NCAA tournament instead of the NIT.
Put these two dynamic players on the same court and it's bound to be an entertaining first-round game Thursday in the West Regional (2:55 p.m. on CBS and Terrapin Sports Radio Network).
"They're a little bit different players," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said Wednesday. "Vasquez is a better passer. Vasquez is 6-6, he can see over people, he can pass over people, he can finish at the basket better than Jerome can. Jerome has to do what he can do."
Vasquez can seemingly do just about anything.
Known as the "Venezuelan Sensation," Vasquez has been the catalyst for the 10th-seeded Terps (20-13), becoming the first player since 1970 - when the school started tracking leaders - to lead the team in points (17.2), rebounds (5.5) and assists (5.1) in a season. He's tops in eight other categories, too, handling just about everything except the water bottles.
"He's a very crafty scorer as far as getting into the lane," said Cal's Patrick Christopher, who'll likely get the first crack at stopping him. "He has a variety of ways of scoring the ball. He's definitely a tough player. We just going to do our best to contain him."
Randle's forte is shooting.
Unsure of himself at times in two seasons under coach Ben Braun, Randle has thrived with the freedom he's been afforded in Montgomery's first season in Berkley.
With a sneeze-quick release and a range that extends nearly to halfcourt, Randle led the seventh-seeded Bears (22-10) in scoring at 18.4 points per game - up nearly seven points from last year - and hit 46 percent from the 3-point arc, third-best in the country in Division I. The junior also led Cal with 5.0 assists per game and shot 50 percent from the floor overall - impressive for a generously listed 5-foot-10 point guard.
"He's made great progress," Montgomery said. "Some of the things that maybe he didn't do, that he was criticized for, was maybe because he didn't know what to do. That happens a lot to kids. They don't have all the answers. We asked him to do something and he's responded."
Vasquez seems to come through when his team - and coach - need him the most.
With his team in the midst of a 2-5 streak and expected to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, Gary Williams came under fire unlike any other time in his 20 years at Maryland. He hadn't recruited well, didn't have the same passion, his critics said.
The Terps banded together around their coach, grinding out wins, overcoming a few missteps to get into the NCAA tournament.
Vasquez led the way.
Against North Carolina on Feb. 21, he scored Maryland's first 16 points and had 35, 11 rebounds and 10 assists - the school's first triple-double since 1987 - in the 88-85 overtime win. He also keyed a late-season win over North Carolina State, scoring 21 of the Terps' 37 second-half points, and nearly had another triple-double in a win over Wake Forest in the ACC tournament that helped secure the NCAA berth.
"Winning is the most important thing," Williams said. "And he'll sacrifice; in other words, he'll rebound, play defense, handle the ball in addition to his scoring, if that's what makes us a better basketball team, gives us a better chance to win."
Like Vasquez, Randle has a knack from coming through in the clutch.
He hit three 3-pointers during a key stretch in a win over DePaul in early December, then dropped in a game-winning 3 with six seconds left against Utah a week later. In perhaps Cal's biggest game of the season, Randle hit eight 3-pointers and scored 31 points in a six-point victory at Arizona - the Bears' only win in their final four games.
"Certainly, late in games Jerome has won a lot of games for us from shooting it from deep," Montgomery said.
It should be quite a show.