Sophomore guard Sean Mosley (St. Frances) signs autographs… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
SPOKANE, Wash. — — Since 1990, No. 4 seeds are 64-17 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But the fourth-seeded Maryland Terrapins know their opponent tonight possesses a skill that can be the great equalizer - the 3-point shot.
Houston, the No. 13 seed, made more 3-pointers this season - an average of 8.3 per game - than in all but three years of its history.
"We definitely focused on it knowing that Houston is all about run-and-gun - getting the ball up and getting a lot of 3s up," Maryland junior guard Adrian Bowie said before a shootaround Thursday night at Spokane Arena. "That's been our main focus in practice all week."
Led by senior guards Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, the Cougars don't settle for 3-point shots - they try to manufacture them. Houston, which can struggle on the boards, attempted a season-high 27 3-point shots in a 93-85 victory over Troy this season, making 16.
"The No. 1 way of upsetting somebody is the 3-point shot," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "The free-throw line is No. 2."
If it wins, Maryland will meet the winner of Michigan State-New Mexico State on Sunday. A victory Sunday would send the Terps to the next round at the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, where Kansas is the top seed.
Maryland players arrived in Spokane on Tuesday. The Terps held a closed practice at Gonzaga University, then staged a public practice Thursday.
As they conducted media interviews and watched other NCAA games in their cinderblock dressing room, the Terps seemed restless, almost fidgety. Maryland will play one of the final two games of the first round, with the game tipping off about 10 p.m.
"This is the third day we've been out here. I'm just ready to play," junior swingman Cliff Tucker said.
Maryland coach Gary Williams has won nine straight NCAA first-round games. The Terps, who have three senior starters, are looking to surpass last season's achievement of advancing to the tournament's second round.
"It is a little pressure, but I wanted this," said senior guard Greivis Vasquez, who considered leaving school for the NBA draft last season but opted to remain. "I wanted a little bit of pressure. We're a little nervous; that's normal. But as soon as the game starts, we're going to be fine."
Said Vasquez: "It's just hard because you're watching everybody playing and you want to play, too."
Maryland has emphasized guarding the 3-pointer since Villanova attempted a school-record 39 3s, making 16, in beating the Terps, 95-86, on Dec. 6.
"In the Villanova game, we weren't really getting out on the guys, so that was a big learning experience," senior guard Eric Hayes said.
Lewis is Houston's best 3-point shooter, converting 39.8 percent. The rugged Coleman, who leads the nation in scoring at 25.6 points per game, is best at creating shots.
"When he's not scoring, he's rebounding and defending," Tulane coach and former Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson said of Coleman, 6 feet 4, 200 pounds. "When he's not scoring, he's passing the ball really well. The toughest thing about Houston is that they don't turn the ball over."
Vasquez said he expects to guard Coleman, although Maryland often switches its defenses during games. "He can flat-out score," Vasquez said.
The game pits two coaches - Williams, 65, and Houston's Tom Penders, 64 - who are several months apart in age but miles apart in philosophies. Williams runs a patterned offense known as the "flex." Penders' offense gives players more freedom. He calls it "pro-style."
Williams and Penders have the same number of career wins with 648.
"The tie will be broken [tonight]," Penders said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.