NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The four-man tag team that Maryland used to wrestle down David West was one of the talking points in its win over Xavier, but that crew's work in the transition sprint relay was just as impressive.
The defensive effort of Tahj Holden, Ryan Randle, Jamar Smith and Travis Garrison frustrated West, a consensus first-team All-American who said, "I've seen that type of defense all year," but nonetheless had his third-worst shooting game of the season. They fatigued him by running hard to their own basket, one reason the Musketeers' gallant comeback attempt wilted.
"Our big men can run; that's the key," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "After every rebound, we wanted to sprint the court. We tried to run our fast break, maybe not to get a shot, but just to make Xavier go in transition every time. You hope that has an effect in the second half, somewhere along the line.
"People just get tired. We play more people than Xavier, and it's a luxury to go 10 deep in these games. We've been doing that all year, so we didn't have to do anything different than today."
The product was similar to last year's NCAA semifinals, when Kansas All-American Drew Gooden was not as good as advertised, but the setup couldn't have been more different. Then, sophomore Chris Wilcox single-handedly intimidated a player with a bigger reputation. Yesterday, Maryland went at West in waves.
Holden checked the 6-foot-9 senior at the start. Randle then took a shift. Smith played 15 minutes, the last six with four fouls. Freshman Garrison went 12 minutes; he'd gone longer only once in the 10 previous games.
They combined for 15 fouls, as West made 10 of 14 free throws to balance his 6-for-17 shooting, finishing with 22 points. Xavier's other baseline starter, Anthony Myles, was held to eight points, two below his average. With their only two reserves failing to score, the Musketeers got 30 points and 15 rebounds from the center and power forward spots. Maryland's big four teamed for 39 and 18.
Smith was 6-for-6 from the field, the last coming when he beat West and Myles down the floor, took a feed from Steve Blake and extended the lead to 71-61 with 3:21 left.
"West and Myles played basically the whole game," Smith said, "and they didn't seem to like the way we ran the floor."
"If I was those guys, I'd run, too, because they have two of the best passers in the nation in their backcourt," Xavier coach Thad Matta said of Blake and Drew Nicholas. "We knew transition was going to be important, and Maryland did a good job there."
In the halfcourt, Randle posted up and made eight of 12 shots for 17 points. Holden shot 1-for-8, but he began the leaning on West, who didn't get his first basket until the 11th minute.
"You have to stay between him and the basket and limit his touches as much as possible," said Holden, who had the ball in his hands and a sly grin on his face at the final buzzer. "If he gets it five feet from the basket, he's almost an automatic scorer."
With Randle, Smith and Garrison all saddled with four fouls, Holden drew a big offensive foul from West with 5:07 left, when it was a two-possession game. At 265 pounds, Holden has 25 on West, the reason he said, "I'm the best person for the job.
"He wasn't saying anything, but you could tell he was frustrated," Holden said. "We've got four guys who are 6-9, 6-10, and he's not used to that."
Other than a few possessions in each half when they used a 3-2 zone, the Terps played man-to-man defense the entire way, and it wasn't just the inside players who went after West. Late in the first half, three defenders trapped him on the right block. He attempted a turnaround jumper, which was blocked by Nicholas.
NOTE: After making seven of 19 shots in Maryland's three previous games, Randle got back into the offensive flow in the NCAA tournament. He connected on 13 of 21 field-goal attempts against UNC-Wilmington and Xavier, reviving the Terps' inside game.
"We all know he can play that way," Holden said. "When he's scoring and rebounding like that, we're one of the toughest teams in the country."