Terps' Stars Say Goodbye in Style

Top-Seeded Maryland Moving On to Raleigh After Runaway Victory: Maryland 71, Utah 56

The Washington Post's Camille Powell reports on Maryland's second-round victory over Utah in the women's NCAA Tournament.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009; Page E01

The Maryland women's basketball team officially honored the careers of its two standout seniors nearly a month ago, when Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver had their jerseys raised to the arena rafters in a ceremony following their last regular season home game. But last night's NCAA second-round contest against ninth-seeded Utah was actually their last game at Comcast Center, and the Terrapins' dominating 71-56 victory was a far more fitting sendoff.

Coleman scored 18 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, and Toliver had 17 points and four assists. With 2 minutes 38 seconds remaining, Toliver and Coleman were taken out of the game and walked off the court as the 10,065 fans stood and cheered. Each player paused to hug Coach Brenda Frese and then slapped the hands of her teammates on the bench. In their four years at Maryland, the Terrapins were 65-3 at Comcast and won their last 36 home games.

"I won't lie, I got a little emotional," Toliver said. "I didn't want it to end. I knew that was the last time we'd be playing in front of the best fans in the country. . . . It's too bad that it's over, but it's a great feeling knowing that we still have games left to be played."

Top-seeded Maryland (30-4) will play fourth-seeded Vanderbilt (26-8) in the South Region semifinals at Raleigh's RBC Center on Saturday afternoon. Maryland met the Commodores in the region semifinals of last year's tournament and came away with an 80-66 victory.

The first two rounds of the women's tournament have been defined, in part, by surprises: Tennessee's first-ever first-round loss, North Carolina's earliest exit since 2004, top-seeded Duke's loss in the second round, and Notre Dame and Iowa's home defeats by lower-seeded teams. But the Terrapins were determined to avoid that fate, and that was reflected in the way they dominated the glass: They had 30 more rebounds than Utah. Maryland had more offensive rebounds (25) than the Utes had total rebounds (24).

Junior Dee Liles set a career high with 17 rebounds (including nine offensive), and scored 12 points.

"Coming into the game, Dee and I talked, and we said that we were going to grab every board," Coleman said. "That's the mentality we took into the game. I think Dee and I, we thrive when we're getting rebounds. That's when we play our best."

Said Toliver, "Riss did a fabulous job on the boards tonight, but don't forget about my two [rebounds] that I had."

The Utes (23-10), however, were the more aggressive team for the first four minutes of the game, grabbing rebounds -- two on their first offensive possession -- and confidently hitting open shots. After senior guard Morgan Warburton, the Mountain West Conference player of the year, converted two free throws with 14:24 left in the first half, Utah led 15-8.

Frese wasn't concerned; she figured that it would take some time for the Terrapins to get used to defending Utah's motion offense, which is unlike anything they saw en route to winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles. And she knew that if her players started rebounding, that would trigger their offense.

"You look at the first four minutes, Utah did a tremendous job of getting on the glass, then the next 16 [minutes] we dominated," Frese said. "Our defensive rebounding led to our transition, and that's how we love to play. . . . We were really unselfish in our attack mode; we were hitting our bigs, we were hitting our guards, and were just being really aggressive in transition."

Coleman sparked the comeback. Every time she grabbed a rebound, she immediately started Maryland's fast break. She scored six straight points off an array of jumpers during one stretch -- despite being closely guarded by Utah junior Kalee Whipple (24 points) -- to turn a four-point deficit into a two-point lead that the Terrapins never relinquished.

Maryland outscored Utah by a 30-10 margin over the final 12 minutes of the half, and its last play of the half was emblematic of its effort. Coleman blocked Warburton's shot, Liles saved the ball from going out of bounds, Toliver started the fast break, and sophomore Marah Strickland (eight points) finished it off with a smooth layin. The Terrapins led 44-28 at halftime, and Coleman had more rebounds (10) than the entire Utah team (nine).

"It's so much fun when you can walk into a locker room, you can walk out onto the court today for shoot-around, and they're ready to play," Frese said of her two seniors. "When they're ready to play, the team's ready to play.

"It's a peaceful mind-set as a coaching staff. When you get nervous about an upcoming opponent, you know you have two of the best seniors in the country that are going to continue to help lead this team . . . that have done so many special things for this program."

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