By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 23, 2009
Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman spent most of the final 10 minutes of the top-seeded Maryland women's basketball team's 82-53 NCAA first-round victory over 16th-seeded Dartmouth yesterday afternoon reclining on the Terrapins' bench, with their warmup shirts on and towels draped across their legs. It was a big change from what the two seniors went through two weeks earlier, when they rarely left the court and survived close games in winning the ACC tournament title.
"It's definitely good, but at the same time, being seniors and this being our last NCAA tournament, Kristi and I would rather play the entire 40 minutes," Coleman said. "I guess we've got to be able to share the minutes and rest a bit for Utah."
Maryland (29-4) will play ninth-seeded Utah (23-9), 60-30 winners over eighth-seeded Villanova, in a South Region second-round game tomorrow at 7 p.m. The teams have met only once before, and it came in the 2006 tournament, when Toliver and Coleman were freshmen; the Terrapins won in overtime, 75-65, to earn a spot in the Final Four.
Coleman admitted to pressing a little bit at the start of this, her final NCAA tournament, and her second-to-last game inside Comcast Center. She missed her first shot, air-balled her second attempt and had her third one blocked by Brittney Smith, the Ivy League player of the year.
"Coach B [Brenda Frese] just pulled me to the side and said, you know, if you're not hitting your shots, you do too many other things for us," said Coleman, who was averaging 22.3 points in her previous 12 games. "I really wanted to focus on that. If I wasn't hitting my shots or getting any looks, just be able to rebound and defend and find my teammates."
Coleman finished with nine points -- the first time she didn't reach double digits in scoring in 2009 -- but had 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. She also helped defend Smith, who made just 4 of 19 shots and scored 13 points.
Toliver, meantime, was sharp from the beginning in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 10,847. She made her first four shots, including two three-pointers, as Maryland opened up a 20-7 lead over the first eight minutes of the game. She was aggressive, and her teammates made a point of looking for her; five of her nine first-half baskets came off assists. Shortly before halftime, Coleman snagged a defensive rebound and slung a no-look pass to Toliver for a fast-break layup.
At halftime, Toliver had as many points (23) as Dartmouth did, and Maryland led by 19. For the game, Toliver scored 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, and had four assists and no turnovers.
"I love seeing when Kristi is in that kind of attack mode," Frese said. "I think it really helps our team when she's being aggressive and they have to find a way to stop her."
Said Dartmouth Coach Chris Wielgus: "I don't think we're the only ones she presents problems for. Everyone seems to have problems with her. . . . She's the type of player that she probably has to stop herself before anyone else in the nation is going to stop her."
Toliver and Coleman are the only players left from the 2006 NCAA championship team, and sophomores Marah Strickland (10 points) and Drey Mingo (eight points) were the only other players with any postseason experience entering ACC tournament. Yesterday's blowout victory was a good opportunity for some of the younger Terrapins to get a taste of the NCAA tournament -- and for the veterans to cheer them on.
Toliver leapt to her feet and waved her towel when Yemi Oyefuwa, a raw 6-foot-6 freshman from England, caught a pass in the post, pivoted, and banked in a shot to give Maryland a 63-39 advantage. She applauded when center Lynetta Kizer, the ACC freshman of the year, made a nifty little touch pass to sophomore Mingo for an easy layup, and when redshirt freshman guard Kim Rodgers grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly put it into the basket.
"It's so crucial for them to get a feel for what the NCAA tournament is like," Toliver said of the younger players. "I love seeing my teammates succeed and do great things; that's what I enjoy most. Everybody contributed today, everybody played great, everybody played hard. Hopefully we can continue that throughout the course of the tournament."
-- UTAH 60, VILLANOVA 30: The biggest problem throughout the season for eighth-seeded Villanova has been its ability to score points. Said veteran coach Harry Perretta, "We have games where we just don't make any shots."
Yesterday's loss to ninth-seeded Utah was one of those games. Villanova (19-14) shot just 19 percent (11 of 58) from the field, and was a miserable 4 of 29 from beyond the arc (13.8 percent). Its point total set a Comcast Center record for fewest points by a women's team, and was also the third-lowest total in NCAA women's tournament history.
"Our job was to take away the three-pointer, because that's what we thought was going to win the game for us," said Utah junior forward Kalee Whipple, who held Villanova's leading scorer, senior Laura Kurz, to 11 points and 5-of-19 shooting.
Utah, the Mountain West champion, opened up a 10-0 lead as Villanova missed its first six shots of the game. Senior forward Katie King led the Utes with 18 points, Whipple added 15, and senior guard Morgan Warburton scored 14.
"My biggest fear going into the game was that we were going to be extremely nervous," said Perretta, whose team ranked last in the Big East in scoring offense (55.6 points) and second-to-last in field goal percentage (38.7). "Signs of nervousness to me are being frozen. In the first three possessions, we were frozen to the floor."