Yesterday, the overachieving Terps launched their mission with an 84-71 victory over California that - as usual for Maryland - was sparked largely by defense.
The Terps (21-13) barely celebrated at the end of the game at Sprint Center. It was clear the team, a No. 10 seed in the West Regional, had higher aspirations than a first-round win.
Tomorrow, Maryland plays No. 2 seed Memphis (32-3), which has won 26 games in a row and hasn't lost since before Christmas. Memphis led 15th seed Cal State Northridge yesterday only 72-68 with 2:30 to play. But the Tigers held on to win, 81-70, behind a career-high 35 points by reserve guard Roburt Sallie, who entered averaging 4.5 points.
Maryland assistant coaches had begun scouting Memphis as soon as the brackets were announced Sunday night. It's not that the staff was overlooking No. 7 seed California, but rather that it wanted to be ready for the Tigers should the teams meet.
Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has won nine straight NCAA first-round games, told the team after the win "that we've got to come in [today] and start practicing for Memphis," guard Sean Mosley said. "We came out a little flat today. We know we can't come out that way against Memphis because they could hit some shots early and things could get out of hand."
Maryland beat Cal despite shooting 37.5 percent in the first half.
The Terps gambled by switching to a zone defense in the second half. Cal guard Jerome Randle had been penetrating into the lane, and Williams said he wanted to clog the middle. Randle, who had 11 points at halftime, got just three shots in the second half and finished with 14 points.
The score was tied at 51 when the Terps went on a 10-2 run highlighted by three-pointers by Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne.
A key sequence came with the Terps ahead 61-53.
Vasquez, who scored a game-high 27 points, grimaced after shooting an air ball on an open three-point attempt. But then he stole a pass and drove for a layup to make it 63-53. Maryland tied up Cal on the next series, and Williams applauded his team's defensive effort as it came off the court. The Terps weren't threatened after that.
"That was a horrible shot," Vasquez said of his air ball. "I was kind of upset with myself. Right after that, I made a good play. I don't know if it changed the pace of the game, but we definitely decided to play harder after that."
Maryland got a lift from Adrian Bowie. The sophomore guard often used his quickness to get inside, where he was able to curl to the basket or pass to open perimeter shooters. Bowie scored 12 points and tied a career high with seven assists.
Bowie "could take his guy to the basket pretty much every time," Hayes said.
Maryland extended its lead behind Dino Gregory. The sophomore forward, getting increasing playing time of late, had a tip-in and a dunk. The latter extended Maryland's lead to 74-59 with 4:57 to play.
"Dino is one of those guys who's a spark plug off the bench," said forward Dave Neal, who scored 15 points.
"One play, he looked like Dennis Rodman," Neal said, referring to the former NBA rebounding leader.
Cal got in foul trouble in the second half. Among those fouling out was Patrick Christopher, a first-team All-Pacific-10 forward who spent much of the game guarding Vasquez.
"We got worn down physically," Golden Bears coach Mike Montgomery said. His players agreed, largely crediting Maryland's press and intensity.
Maryland fans chanted "ACC" at the end.
The Terps believed they benefited from playing in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.
"To me, it's the best league in the whole nation," Vasquez said. "We have that toughness from playing in that league."
play it again
Keys to the game
Like many Maryland opponents, California was worn down by defensive pressure. The Terps used a zone defense in the second half to prevent the Golden Bears' Jerome Randle, who had 11 first-half points, from penetrating. Cal, an excellent three-point-shooting team, shot 7-for-24 from beyond the arc.
Did you notice?
* Maryland scored 16 points off turnovers compared with Cal's six.
* Dino Gregory was aggressive defensively and had five rebounds.
* Maryland players watched a portion of the earlier Memphis game on televisions in their locker room.
Left to ponder
How will Maryland do with one day to
prepare for a Memphis team that
hasn't lost since Dec. 20?
NO. 10 MARYLAND (21-13) VS. NO. 2 MEMPHIS (32-3)
Tomorrow, 3:20 p.m. Kansas City, Mo.
TV: Chs. 13, 9