No. 19 Terps start in Spokane

Players turn serious as they plan for trip, prepare to face Houston

March 15, 2010|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland Terrapins wore red T-shirts and solemn expressions Sunday after learning that they would be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA men's tournament and would play Friday night in Spokane, Wash., against a Houston team that has a mediocre win-loss record but also the nation's leading scorer in Aubrey Coleman.

Facing the media Sunday night, it was as if the Terrapins had already begun preparing themselves emotionally for the task of playing in college basketball's marquee event. Unlike last season - when their entrance into the tournament was met with glee - the Terps appeared more resolute than celebratory.

It's not that the Terps (23-8) were disappointed in their seed. A No. 4 was about as high as they could have hoped for after a 13-3 finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and a loss in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.

It's just that Maryland, with three seniors who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, is eager to surpass that achievement this year. And with that goal comes pressure.

"Time to make it special," said senior guard Greivis Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year. "We want to go to the Sweet 16. We want to be focused. We want to take this very serious."

The Maryland game won't start until around 10 p.m. Friday, after the Michigan State-New Mexico State game that begins at 7:20 p.m..

The 19th-ranked Terps will be playing even farther away from their campus than last season, when they were sent by the selection committee to Kansas City.

Senior guard Eric Hayes said Spokane might have ranked only behind Buffalo in sites where the Terps didn't want to go. "We didn't really want to go back to Buffalo because we'd been there before" and lost in the second round in 2007.

Asked whether he had been to Spokane, Hayes replied: "No, I've never been. This is probably the only situation where I'd ever go."

Spokane is nearly 2,500 miles away. "The tough thing is for the parents of the players to get out there on short notice - and the fans," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

Vasquez seemed to feel the weight of the tournament more than other players after a subpar game (6-for-21 shooting, six turnovers) in the 69-64 loss to Georgia Tech on Friday night in his last ACC tournament. "I'm still upset," he said Sunday. "It's good for us that we're playing on Friday. I'm not a little [upset]; I'm very upset."

If Maryland wins, it would face either fifth-seeded Michigan State or No. 12 seed New Mexico State on Sunday. The Terps would then advance to the Midwest Region semifinals in St. Louis.

Maryland said it was not very familiar with 13th-seeded Houston (19-15, 7-9 Conference USA), which is led by the 6-foot-4 Coleman, the nation's leading scorer at 25.6 points per game. The Cougars average more than eight successful 3-pointers a game, 18th in the nation. Maryland averages 5.9 3-pointers.

Also, Houston, making its first tournament appearance in 18 years, ranks second in the nation, behind only Wisconsin, in forcing turnovers.

But the Cougars struggle in rebounding. Houston - coached by Tom Penders, who has been a coach for 36 years and, like Maryland's Williams, has more than 600 wins - would not have made the tournament but for an 81-73 upset of Texas-El Paso in the conference tournament final.

It's the second straight NCAA tournament in which Maryland will play a Conference USA team. The Terps lost to Memphis last year in the second round - a game in which Tigers fans booed Vasquez for saying the team would have had a losing record in the stronger ACC.

"They proved me wrong," Vasquez said afterward. Tickets First- and second-round games are priced at $65 per session. Terrapin Club members have priority to buy tickets, which go on sale at 8:30 a.m. today through the Maryland athletics ticket office (800-462-TERP).

Maryland's opponent: Houston
Game time: Approximately 10 p.m. Friday in Spokane, Wash. Record: 19-15 Conference: Conf. USA (7-9) Coach: Tom Penders (648-437 overall) Top scorer: Aubrey Coleman, above, leads the nation in scoring at 25.6 ppg. Previous meetings: Twice, including once in the 1983 NCAA tournament (top-seeded Cougars defeated eighth-seeded Maryland, 60-50, in second round).

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