Terrapins Face Long Day Before Prime-Time Start

Junior Kristi Toliver says the Terrapins will
Junior Kristi Toliver says the Terrapins will "stay busy in the day, go to class, practice, pregame." (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2008; Page E01

Maryland point guard Kristi Toliver let out a groan and shook her head, and it wasn't because her stomach was feeling queasy again. Toliver was lamenting the Terrapins' late start time for tonight's second-round game in the Spokane Region of the NCAA tournament.

Top-seeded Maryland (31-3) likely won't tip off against No. 8 seed Nebraska (21-11) until nearly 10 p.m. in College Park.

"I'm a little disappointed we got the 9:30 game; I'm not going to lie," Toliver said.

"I was pulling for the seven. But whatever happens, we'll be prepared for it."

ESPN and the NCAA, which set the game times for the tournament, have Duke slated for the earlier game in part because North Carolina is playing at 9:30 p.m., and they want to show both teams in their home region.

The situation is similar to that of Connecticut, which is playing at 9:30 p.m., and Tennessee, which has the 7 p.m. game. It's ESPN's way of maximizing its audience.

"I am told that for television that this is prime time for us to be able to play, and that's why we're in the window that we're in," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said.

"I just hope our loyal fans will spend one night where they are up late, and it will be well worth it."

While the Maryland late show might make for good ratings, it isn't ideal for Terrapins fans who will be fighting to stay awake.

"We did our best to request the 7 p.m. game time," said Larry Leckonby, Maryland senior associate athletics director who is the sport supervisor for women's basketball.

"It's not the best time for our fans, but we knew all along it was an NCAA and ESPN decision."

The late start time is not the only concern for the Terrapins. Should they advance, they are the only team playing in the late slot Tuesday that has to play in a Saturday regional semifinal. And the Terrapins, in the Spokane Region, will have to travel across the country to do so.

One of the hardest parts about playing a late game, especially one of this magnitude, is spending the day waiting to play.

"We're going to stay busy in the day, go to class, practice, pregame, try to keep enough the same as we would normally for a 7 o'clock game," Toliver said.

"We're going to be extremely ready. We know obviously, it's one and done. If anything, we'll just use it for extra preparation time."

Toliver, who left Sunday's game because of an upset stomach, said she was feeling much better yesterday. She claimed her nausea stemmed from something she ate.

This game carries special meaning for the team, and not just because the seniors will be playing for the last time at Comcast Center. Maryland's last tournament run reached a premature end in the second round, when Mississippi upset the Terrapins, 89-78, to advance to the region semifinals.

"This one particular game is going to be maybe one of the most passionate ones for us," senior Laura Harper said. "I talk to Marissa [Coleman] about it all the time because it's that hump. That stuck with us last year. It's kind of like getting that burden off your shoulder of losing in the second round.

"We're not going to think about it too much, but deep down that's how it feels. When it's over, hopefully, God willing, we'll get a win. I think the rest of the tournament will just be a lot lighter."

For her part, Frese can't wait to get this game over and done with.

"I am excited about [tonight's] game because I'm really tired of having to hear the questions about last year, and I think this team is as well," she said.

"It isn't the same team. It isn't the same season, and that's why I think it will be a different outcome because this team is not going to be worried about a year ago. . . .

"We're more prepared. We've worked harder, and we're going to come out and we're going to play the best 40 minutes of basketball that we can."

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