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Mike Wise on the Final Game for Maryland's Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman

The top-seeded Maryland women's basketball team soared through three rounds of the NCAA Tournament before falling one hurdle short of the Final Four in a Regional Final loss to Louisville.

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By Mike Wise
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C.

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She kept shooting. And shooting. If three in a row wouldn't fall, Kristi Toliver would take another.

Until finally a three-pointer would rattle in, and the steadiest and most stable point guard in College Park the past four years would begin to believe the drought was over, that her range and rhythm were back. She was sure Maryland was returning to the Final Four for the second time in her career, back to the place she became a bona fide star, an 18-year-old who didn't flinch with the national championship on the line.

But she wasn't spotting up against Duke in 2006. There was no outstretched arm for Toliver to shoot over from the right wing, no title game to send into overtime. The coach who actually drew up that play, and can be seen giving her final instructions in the video replay on YouTube, was now on the other sideline, telling a group of young women who had never been to the Final Four that they just needed a few stops, that the clock was their friend, that they wanted it more than the Terrapins.

Jeff Walz was now the gate-crasher, the way his old boss, Brenda Frese, was four years ago.

Baltimore's own Angel McCoughtry, a languid, graceful athlete with definition in her arms not even Madonna's personal trainer could sculpt, was taking her Louisville Cardinals to St. Louis to have a crack at maybe Connecticut, Stanford or some other perennial power.

Maryland was going home. The impressionable teenagers who began this extreme makeover four years ago were now worldly young women, taking the last bus ride of their Maryland careers -- five emotional hours of reminiscing and, at least Monday night, regret.

Tears streamed down Marissa Coleman's face as she bent over with 1 minute 10 seconds left. Frese put her arm around one of her senior stars, and moments later Toliver was weeping as well. Through being angry at her awful fate this night and her shot that rarely went through the rim, she cried harder. And harder.

When Coleman finally checked out, she fell into convulsive sobs, into Frese's arms, and stayed there for maybe a minute, maybe more.

"It wasn't supposed to end like this," Coleman said, back in the locker room, through swollen eyelids and choked-up words. "We were supposed to get back to the Final Four and win another national championship."

There was no symmetry, no perfect circumference back to where their magnificent careers began, no silver lining in being run off the RBC Center court in the final minutes, losing to a more determined and cocksure team.


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