CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- People say Gary Williams is smart, and I guess he must be. He has 568 wins. He has two Final Four appearances. He has one national championship.
|With Greivis Vasquez on the floor, the Terps are better. Simple. (US PRESSWIRE)|
OK, so Vasquez doesn't stay on the bench. But he doesn't play as much as he should, which is to say, every possible minute. As it is, he entered the Terps' game Tuesday night at Illinois as No. 19 Maryland's sixth man in name as well as in minutes played.
After Tuesday, let's see if that changes. Check that. Let's see how fast that changes.
After playing a series of questionable opponents, give or take Michigan State, and playing most of them at home, Maryland took by far its toughest test against the Illini. And Vasquez, the skinny freshman guard from Venezuela, took this game over.
Maryland won 72-66, overcoming a bigger and more experienced opponent, an impressively hostile crowd of 16,618 and the raving lunatic on its own bench. But therein lies the beauty of Greivis Vasquez. He's smooth, cool. He calms down teammates, shuts up the crowd, even shuts up his own coach with a wave of the hand. Can a basketball player be a swashbuckler? If so, that's Vasquez. He's a swashbuckler.
And his fearlessness extends to the locker room, where he made it clear that he doesn't want to be the Terps' sixth man for long.
"I'm not afraid," Vasquez said. "I'm coming from so far (away). I didn't come here to sit on the bench. I came here to play. They're going to make me stay (there), but ..."
But then the game gets close and Vasquez takes over and, well, why is he sixth on the team in minutes played, anyway?
On Tuesday the Terps were going down. With their best inside player (Ekene Ibekwe) sidelined by a sore ankle and Illinois practicing its tip drill on the offensive glass, Maryland's 15-point first-half lead disappeared in a puddle of Gary Williams' sweat.
Illinois led 48-43 with 8 1/2 minutes left and -- complete honesty here -- I was set to do the "Gary Williams loses his mind" story. Had a few paragraphs written, and they were good. Not to worry. I'll save them. He'll lose his mind again. Maybe I'll be there to see it.
But with Illinois up five and the Illini crowd smelling blood -- two Maryland players were bleeding, actually -- Vasquez took over. He was one of the bloodied Maryland players, with a cut above his right eye, but he drilled a 3-pointer. He drove for a three-point play. He drove for another basket, and his eight consecutive Maryland points changed the game. Illinois was no longer hunting. Illinois was being hunted.
"We had a 48-43 lead, and their freshman kicked our butt for about two minutes," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.