Cal and Maryland would both prefer a free-flowing, open-court game in today’s NCAA Tournament opener.
Certainly Bears point guard Jerome Randle wants it that way.
“Why change up your game? Just play the type of basketball that got you there,” Randle said. “We just have to be smart. Don’t let them dictate what’s going on out there.”
Mike Montgomery isn’t so sure that’s what will happen because NCAA games typically turn into lower-scoring, conversative affairs.
“I think both coaches would like to get out and get the stuff off the break,” Monty said. “I don’t want them to have it. I don’t want Vasquez in the open court anymore than I can prevent it from happening.”
Venezuelan-born Greivis Vasquez is the centerpiece of the Terps’ attack, a 6-foot-6 point guard who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, free-throw percentage and minutes played.
Maryland coach Gary Williams said Vasquez is willing to do whatever his team needs.
“Winning is the most important thing,” Williams said. “And he’ll sacrifice. In other words, he’ll rebound, play defense, handle the ball, in addition to his scoring, if that’s what makes us a better basketball team, gives us a better chance to win.”
Vasquez said opponents have gone to great lengths to take him out of the equation.
“They try to double-team me at times, deny me the ball. They try to shift their whole defense to my side,” he said. “I’m used to it, you know. I love that and I just try to make guys better.
“If I’m hot, I’ll take shots. But at the same time, I’m going to pass the ball and look to make guys better.”
One of the recipients of those passes is Dave Neal, a 6-7, 263-pound senior forward, a seeminngly unlikely perimeter scoring threat.
Montgomery said Neal is a difficult matchup, a big man who will set a pick, then pop out to the perimeter to take the pass.
“People seem to be getting a great deal of advantage from skilled big people as compared to just monster back-to-the-basket guys, and he’s a good one,” Monty said. “He shoots the ball very well, and so all of a sudden you’re trying to help on a pick and roll or be in a help-side situation with a big that’s stepped off. He’ll make you pay for it.”
Neal shoots a team-best 38.9 percent from 3-point range.
Guard Eric Hayes, who started at guard the first two-thirds of the season, gave the Terps a big lift in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He came off the bench to average 17.3 points in three games, shooting 8-for-12 from 3-point range.
In preparing for Maryland, Montgomery said the Bears spent little time worrying about what they did early.
“We checked the last 10 games, and their numbers are way up in terms of their shooting percentages,” he said. “It’s obvious they’re playing much better now.”
In fact, the Terps have shot the 3-pointer only marginally better the past 10 games — 33.9 percent compared to 33.1 for the entire season. But they have had three games in that span where they made nine 3-pointers or more, including a 13-for-30 effort in the win over North Carolina.
VASQUEZ VS. RANDLE: Montgomery said that although Vasquez and Randle both play the point, their roles should not be confused.
Asked if it’s possible both players could be called upon to take over the game in crunch time, Montgomery said, “No, I think that would be dangerous if we got in a situation like that. They’re different players.
“I think Vasquez is a better passer. He’s 6-6. He can see over people and pass over people. He can finish at the basket easier than Jerome can.”
Vasquez has dished seven assists or more in five of the Terps’ past 13 games, including 10 in the 35-11-10 triple-double against North Carolina.
“Jerome has to do what he can do,” Montgomery said. “Certainly late in the games, Jerome has won a lot of games for us from shooting it from deep. (But) we’ve got other people that need to be involved, and Jerome has to keep them involved.”
LINEUP QUESTION: Will Montgomery make his first non-injury lineup change of the season by going with freshman Jorge Gutierrez to create essentially a four-guard set?
It’s not a sure thing, and it’s quite likely Monty will start 7-foot center Jordan Wilkes at center, then go to Gutierrez early to create energy and provide a better defensive matchup with Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez.
But even Montgomery hinted after Saturday’s Pac-10 tournament loss to USC that he might have to consider ways to infuse Gutierrez’s intensity into things earlier after the Bears fell far behind early.
AMOKE’S AVAILABILITY: It’s uncertain whether sophomore forward Omondi Amoke will be healthy enough to play four days after suffering a concussion in practice Sunday.
Cal is calling it a game-time decision, but the 6-foot-7 Amoke’s chances seem iffy. He acknowledged Wednesday still feeling a bit “foggy” and did not participate in Cal’s non-contact public workout at the Sprint Center.
It would be a significant loss for the Bears, who could use Amoke’s athleticism against a Terps’ squad that starts two 6-7 forwards and three guards, and boasts better depth than the Bears.
TIPOFF: 11:55 a.m. Thursday, Sprint Center, Kansas City.
TV: CBS. RADIO: 1550 AM.
NOTES: Cal is 10-9 all-time vs. teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, including 1-4 vs. powerhouse North Carolina. Maryland beat the Bears in their only previous meeting during the 1996-97 season . . . The Terps have won their NCAA opener their past eight appearances . . . If Cal wins, the Bears will play either second-seeded Memphis (31-3) or No. 15 Cal State Northridge (17-13) in Saturday’s second-round game. Cal is 5-0 all-time against Northridge, but never has played Memphis.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
Cal (22-10, 11-7 in Pac-10):
PF Jamal Boykin, 6-8, Jr., 9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg
SF Theo Robertson, 6-5, Jr., 12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
C Jordan Wilkes, 7-0, Jr., 4.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg
SG Patrick Christopher, 6-5, Jr., 14.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg
PG Jerome Randle, 5-10, Jr., 18.4 ppg, 4.9 apg
Maryland (20-13, 7-9 in ACC):
PF Dave Neal, 6-7, Sr., 8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg
SF Landon Milbourne, 6-7, Jr., 11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg
SG Adrian Bowie, 6-2, So., 8.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg
SG Sean Mosley, 6-4, Fr., 5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg
PG Greivis Vasquez, 6-6, Jr., 17.2 ppg, 5.5 apg