Open shot

ncaa tournament

Vasquez calls Memphis' league 'questionable'

March 21, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -Maryland's NCAA tournament run became the Greivis Vasquez reality show yesterday.

The excitable junior guard is expected to be the focus of the Memphis defense today when the Tigers (32-3), who have won 26 games in a row, play the Terrapins (21-13) in a second-round game. Memphis coach John Calipari yesterday called the 6-foot-6 Vasquez "crafty" and "multidimensional" and named four Tigers - including 6-9 forward Robert Dozier - who might guard him.

But the attention the Tigers devote to Vasquez will pale in comparison to the interest he drew from the media after Maryland's closed practice at Sprint Center. As he navigated the arena's corridors, Vasquez seemed perpetually surrounded by a thicket of cameras and microphones recording his thoughts on such topics as his histrionics on the court and interaction with fans, his early days in Venezuela, and the Tigers and Conference USA.

Just as he is Maryland's point man on the court, Vasquez has become known in the media as a "go-to guy" for an entertaining quote.

Among the questions he was asked yesterday was whether Maryland tries to rein in his more outrageous comments.

"Never," Vasquez replied.

And then he proved it by seeming to slight Conference USA, the league that includes Memphis, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham and nine other schools.

Asked about Memphis, Vasquez said in a question-and-answer session: "Their conference is pretty much questionable. They don't have tough games. But I still believe they're good."

He later qualified his remarks, saying: "I didn't mean to disrespect their conference. We have tough games night in, night out" in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "Every game we play in the ACC is tough."

But about 20 minutes later, Vasquez - interviewed this time in the Maryland locker room - was back on the subject.

"They'd have a losing record in the [ACC] - probably win all of their games outside the league, losing record in the league," he said. "The ACC is too tough. You can't just win games night in and night out because you're so athletic."

Senior forward Dave Neal offered a tamer version of the theme.

"When you're sitting around TV watching Memphis win 25 games in a row, you're thinking, 'Well, do they play as [many] tough teams as we do?' Not to knock Conference USA, but the ACC is the No. 1-rated conference in the country and we play against better competition," Neal said. "We're going to be ready tomorrow to show them what ACC basketball is all about."

Memphis dominated Conference USA this season, finishing 16-0 and winning the league tournament for the fourth straight season. The Tigers have grown accustomed to hearing their conference criticized.

Conference USA is 10th nationally in the Rating Percentage Index, a formula that ranks teams and leagues. The ACC is first.

"We don't worry about what people say about our conference," Memphis guard Antonio Anderson said. "We played in the national championship last year and the Elite Eight the year before. We know what we're capable of."

Apprised of Vasquez's comments, Calipari texted back a message to a Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter. "That's fine," it said.

Vasquez scored 27 points in Maryland's first-round victory over California and has been playing confidently. His midseason shooting slump - he scored in single digits at Florida State and Duke - seems long ago.

The Tigers pose a challenge to Vasquez because of their size. No Memphis starter is shorter than 6-5.

Said Vasquez: "They can be 6-8, 240 and be a point guard. We're still here to compete."

Anderson, listed at 6-6, was among the Tigers named by Calipari as likely to match up against Vasquez.

Anderson is "going to make it tough on Vasquez," said teammate Doneal Mack, a 6-5 guard.

Asked what he knew about Anderson, Vasquez replied: "I don't know much. He's a driver. I'm horrible with names. If I see his face, I will tell you."

Memphis players didn't seem to know much about Maryland players either. Except Vasquez.

"He's just being himself out there," Anderson said of the Maryland star.

Baltimore Sun reporter Rick Maese contributed to this article.

MARYLAND (21-13) VS. MEMPHIS (32-3)

Today, 3:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Line: Memphis by 9

terps today

What to watch for

Like Wake Forest, Memphis potentially poses problems because of size. The Tigers have big guards plus Shawn Taggart, a 6-foot-10 power forward. The Terps will need to defend inside without ignoring guard Roburt Sallie, who scored 35 points in the first round. Sallie won't start but is expected to play a lot.

Key matchup

Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez against Memphis' defense. Tigers coach John Calipari said he might use a quartet of players against the versatile playmaker.

What it means

The winner moves to the West Regional semifinals in Glendale, Ariz.

Jeff Barker

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