Thursday, March 4, 2010
Vasquez basks in senior night spotlight
By Dana O'Neil
COLLEGE PARK, MD. -- While nearly hitting his backside on the floor, Maryland's Greivis Vasquez watched the ball arc toward the hoop and did the only thing he could.
"I just said, 'Please, God, let that go in,"' Vasquez said, "and I gave a little shimmy."
Call it the shimmy that shook up college basketball.
Vasquez's vintage Vasquez shot -- a how-in-the-world-did-that-go-in, off-balance, back-footed jumper from deep in the corner -- set off a court-storming that more resembled a swarming and vaulted Maryland, the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball, back into the spotlight.
Vasquez's sensationally insane shot (depending on your team colors) sealed the Terrapins' 79-72 victory over archrival Duke and put the Terps in position to claim at least a share of their first ACC regular-season title since the national-title year of 2002. Maryland and Duke are tied atop the standings at 12-3, each with one game left to play -- Maryland visits Virginia on Saturday and Duke hosts North Carolina.
"It's unbelievable, unbelievable," said Vasquez of the storybook finish to his career on senior night. "There are just no words to describe it."
That's saying something. Usually the fiery Vasquez has plenty of words for every situation.
But the maturation of the emotional Venezuelan is just one reason the Terrapins find themselves in an unfamiliar spot.
At this time of the season, Maryland tends to be in a familiar postseason position -- uncomfortably squirming on the bubble. The Terps were out by a hair in 2008 and in by a hair in 2009.
This year, despite a late February push to the second spot in the ACC, Maryland had to wait until just this week to make it into the Top 25. All the uncertainty and presumed lack of respect has led to a strange sort of underdog sentiment around a program that won a national championship only eight years ago.
Coach Gary Williams still feels the sting. In the immediate minutes after his team's biggest victory in years, he couldn't help himself, taking a moment to thumb his nose at his team's detractors.
"I'm really happy for the team because they were dogged pretty good when they didn't deserve it," Williams said. "They really picked it up this year, and to do what they did, I'm happy that they stuck it to a few people who had some things to say."
One of the people who usually has something to say is Vasquez. He's had a few bouts of foot-in-mouth disease during his collegiate career, his remarks managing to tick off the handful of ACC foes not perturbed by his on-court antics.
But this season Vasquez has tempered his words and upped his play. He will not anoint himself ACC Player of the Year -- "No, no, I don't think I've won it yet" -- but we will.
He is the best player in the league.
In the mano-a-mano battle with Jon Scheyer, Vasquez walked away with more points (20 to 19), more assists (five to two), the game-winning bucket and most of all, the W.
In baseball, that would be hitting for the cycle.
That he did it all with his parents in the stands and the Comcast Center amped for a blinding gold-out on senior night only adds to his lore.
He is theatre -- not poetry -- in motion, an acrobatic shot-artist who can go wild for 41 (as he did against at Virginia Tech over the weekend) or turn on the jets when his team needs it most.
"He's the guy for their team," Scheyer said.
Less than a month ago, the Blue Devils trampled Maryland by 21. Between then and now a lot has changed. For one, the Terrapins have reeled off six consecutive wins to go from the middle of the ACC pack to the top of the heap.
And along the way, the Terps have become a more complete team. Freshman forward Jordan Williams -- who in February was all but schooled by Duke's Brian Zoubek (six points and three rebounds to Zoubek's 17 and 16) -- has literally found his footing in the paint. Williams had 15 boards in the double-overtime win against the Hokies, and he asserted himself early and often this time against Zoubek, turning the tides with his own double-double (15 points, 11 boards).
Then there's Sean Mosley, who contributed 11 points and now has three double-digit scoring games in a row after a funk in February.
And the Terps are starting to get additions from their bench. Adrian Bowie ignited Maryland in a tight second half and finished with nine points while Dino Gregory came up with five critical boards.
|Greivis Vasquez's acrobatic shot with 37 seconds left put a dagger in Duke.|
Still, when the game was on the line, it was Vasquez time.
With the Terps down 63-60 in a high-energy, high-octane and highly entertaining game from the opening tip, Vasquez came to life. He scored nine of his 20 points in the final 5:10, chipped in an assist, a crucial rebound of a Nolan Smith missed 3, and an equally critical block of a Scheyer shot with 30 seconds to play.
But it was the shot and the shimmy that will be remembered. Falling to his left into the deepest corner of the court, Vasquez threw up a shot that would have no chance to go in if taken by 98 percent of the population.
For Vasquez? Swish.
"That's part of the appeal," Williams said of the player who will leave school ranked in Maryland's all-time top 10 in 10 different categories. "It's also part of what makes you pull your hair out, but you know he wants the ball coming down the stretch. He didn't think there was anything wrong with it, so I'm with him."
So is most of a deliriously happy campus.
After he sunk two free throws and time finally expired, Vasquez circled toward the back of the court, giddily enveloped and ultimately swallowed by the storming student body.
Along the outskirts of the celebration, Duke's Smith walked unmolested and undetected, trying to pick his way back to the locker room.
Ordinarily, a Blue Devils player would have an easier time walking barefoot on hot lava than navigating through a sea of Maryland fans.
Not this time.
This time, the Terps had something more important on their agenda.
They were doing a little celebratory shimmy.
|Vasquez and his fellow Terps celebrated alongside Maryland's students after Wednesday's win.|
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.