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He's the most unpredictable player on the Maryland men's basketball team, maybe one of the most unpredictable ever to wear the uniform. Thus, the reactions to the loss to Clemson at Comcast Center a week ago were wholly predictable.

The message boards and comment sections catering to Terps fans began filling within seconds of the conclusion of the come-from-ahead 73-70 defeat, and the talk show callers sprang to life not long after that. The consensus: It was all Greivis Vasquez's fault. Unless it was Gary Williams' fault. But then, it was the coach's fault for recruiting someone as flaky as Vasquez. Or for putting the ball and the responsibility in Vasquez's hands. Or both.

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Understand, of course, that had the game miraculously ended 11 minutes, 22 seconds earlier, Vasquez might have had his jersey retired on the spot, considering how he had played in lifting the Terps to a 20-point lead in a huge game. And it's worth remembering, on the morning of the latest do-or-die Maryland showdown in Charlottesville, Va. - after every available sling and arrow has been aimed at Vasquez during this late-season fade - that exactly one month ago, he was hailed as a savior.

That was in the wake of his brilliant game against North Carolina State - a school-record-tying 15 assists, a near triple double - which was the last win of a 10-2 run that had put the Terps on the threshold of a sure NCAA tournament berth.

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But that has been Vasquez's career, all nearly two years of it, in a nutshell. He invites the heat, and does he ever get it. From game to game, half to half, possession to possession, he's Feast or Famine. His roller-coaster season has been Maryland's, and vice versa.

Vasquez and Maryland are on the wild ride again tonight, against Virginia. Hang on tight. You might be exhilarated, and you might get nauseated.

At this point, Terps fans can't stand the stress. But they have to also know this: If it's not Vasquez running the show, putting winning or losing on his shoulders, then who should it be?

That was the dilemma during the meltdown against Clemson. Vasquez was the one in the spotlight, taking and missing ill-advised shots, missing on questionable passes, unable to generate the tiny amount of offense it would have taken to stave off the comeback. As that unfolded, however, his teammates were disappearing.

Vasquez wanted to be in the middle of the action too much. The rest, seniors, freshmen and everyone in between, didn't want to be there enough - some not at all - especially as the clock wound down and the score got close. Vasquez kept playing to win. The others kept playing not to lose. They're not always like that, but they were too often last Sunday. So many late-game possessions began and ended with Vasquez, with no one else seeming eager to take the shot or make the play that could have saved the day - or could have been a disaster.

So it was Vasquez taking shots late in the shot clock, and missing, and the lead shrinking, then evaporating. And after it was all over, it was Vasquez being called out. Which is what happens when no one else steps out to be the potential goat.

That's why Williams has stayed in his corner, pushing him hard, fretting and scowling over the mountain of turnovers, but walking the usual tightrope with a player with that much emotion and desire to make things happen. Williams and Vasquez know you can't make a good or bad play without trying, without grabbing opportunities when they present themselves.

Well, another opportunity presents itself tonight. Maryland is already wishing - regardless of the result against Virginia, it needs a lot of breaks with results around the country, especially in the mid-major conference tournaments. (And, of course, in the ACC tournament.) Lose tonight, and the Terps need something miraculous.

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In either case, they need Vasquez - and they need him, really, to keep playing the way he does. The way he did against North Carolina State and Clemson. As long as he's more Feast than Famine, Maryland will be fine.

Waiting to see which one he is will make this another harrowing ride for Terps fans, who sit poised at their computers and phones, ready to add to the heat in Charlottesville with some heat of their own.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Starting this week, David Steele appears Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

For the past couple of weeks, observers have wondered whether Barack Obama was getting soft, fawning, uncritical treatment from the national media. Then Brett Favre retired, and those observers said, "Uh ... never mind."

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This week on Unsolved Mysteries: How a woman can guide her team to the No. 5 ranking, losing only to the No. 3 (in double overtime), No. 4 and No. 12 teams, while carrying twin boys to term, and not even make the final cut for National Coach of the Year.

Does my lifetime Orange-and-Black Cynics Club card get revoked if I say it's hard for me to get mad at the Orioles over this Nick Markakis contract issue?

Speaking of cynics: The national scowl aimed at the NBA apparently extends to the Houston Rockets' 17-game winning streak and LeBron James' 50-point, 10-assist game.

Favre's final career statistics, regular-season and playoffs: 481 touchdowns, 316 times he was just being a gunslinger, trying to make something happen, doing anything to win, just wanting to make a play and the receiver was not doing his job.



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