SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez will try to slow Houston’s Aubrey Coleman in an NCAA tournament opening-round matchup of high-scoring guards.
“He can flat-out score,” Vasquez said. “We definitely are going to give him respect. Players like that can take over a game.”
Vasquez also knows Coleman will have to play some defense on him, too, when the teams meet in the first round of the Midwest Regional on Friday.
Coleman is the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 25.6 points per game for Houston (19-15). He’ll certainly draw some attention from Vasquez’s teammates on fourth-seeded Maryland (23-8), which doesn’t play much man-to-man defense.
Vasquez might cause Houston some fits, too. After all, he was the ACC player of the year and averaged 19.5 points a game.
“This is going to be a sight to see, I think,” Coleman said of his showdown with Vasquez.
Houston, the 13th seed, is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. They did it by winning four games in the Conference USA tournament, beating top-seeded UTEP in the final. It was their longest winning streak of the season.
Coleman was reveling in his first NCAA appearance.
“We don’t have no high hopes,” he said. “We’re going to play loose, dead man walking.”
This is the first time the teams have played since the 1983 NCAA tournament during Houston’s Phi Slama Jama heyday
Maryland shared the ACC regular-season title, but lost to Georgia Tech in the league tournament. They drew an at-large bid to make their 17th consecutive postseason appearance.
Both teams average nearly 80 points per game, but Maryland has a better shooting percentage and defense.
In an odd twist, Maryland coach Gary Williams and Houston coach Tom Penders both have 648 career victories, tied for fifth among active coaches.
“Longevity helps in those situations,” Williams said of the coaching wins.
The two have known each other for many years, although Williams estimated they have not coached against each other since Penders was at Texas 15 years ago.
“The tie will be broken,” Penders said with a smile. “We have different styles, but we both take great pride in how hard our teams play. And no teams play harder than Gary Williams teams.”
The versatile Vasquez averaged 6.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds this season, and the 6-foot-6 senior is the only player in ACC history to post 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds in his career. He’s also the only active player in the nation to reach those three milestones.
“Last year, he led our team in scoring, rebounds and assists,” Williams said. “This year, he became a better defensive player. That really helped us.”
Vasquez played for the Venezuelan national team, and then went to high school in the Washington, D.C., area, where Williams found him when he went to scout Kevin Durant.
Vasquez believes the veteran Maryland team has what it takes to go deep in the tournament.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something great and it all starts on Friday,” teammate Eric Hayes said.
Maryland must be careful of Houston’s perimeter shooting, Williams said.
“They have so many people who can shoot 3s,” he said.
That includes Coleman, a 6-foot-4 senior, who sank 50 3-pointers this season. He also averages 7.4 rebounds for Houston. The Cougars also get 15 points per game from Kelvin Lewis, who makes nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers. But those two account for about half the team’s scoring, as no one else averaging better than eight per game.
Both Houston players were hitting the underdog card hard Thursday.
“This is a great working-class city and we are a great working-class team,” Lewis said. “I hope the city supports us.”
While Houston stumbled around as a .500 team much of the season, the squad that won the four tournament games is the real Cougars, Lewis said.
The wins made for a better travel experience. Coleman said the Cougars have been flying commercial all season, but chartered a plane to get to Spokane.
“We had our own plane, baby,” Coleman said. “If you win, you get anything you want.”