Fearless Toledo ready to test Maryland women

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- By all rights, the Toledo women's basketball team should be approaching tonight's NCAA tournament second-round encounter with eighth-ranked Maryland with a bit of fear.

After all, the Terps, not the Rockets, spent four weeks this season at No. 1 and are the second seed in the Mideast Regional.


And the game will be played at Cole Field House, where, just five weeks ago, more than 14,500 showed up to watch Maryland challenge Virginia, and where the Terps are undefeated in five previous NCAA tournament games.

Toledo coach Bill Fennelly and his players know all that, and they are quietly respectful of Maryland, but certainly not fearful.


"We're well aware of the challenge we face, and it's the biggest challenge we've had since I've been here," said Fennelly. "But our team has consistently responded to challenges."

The 10th-seeded Rockets (25-5), the regular season and Mid-American Conference tournament champions, have a reputation for scaring some of the more powerful teams in women's basketball.

Last season, after winning the MAC regular season and tournament, the Rockets went on the road in the first round and knocked off Rutgers in the school's first tournament appearance, before losing by a point to eventual national semifinalist Connecticut.

In their first-round game Wednesday night, Toledo beat Providence, 74-64, on the road, holding the nation's most potent offense 25 points below its average, and Friar guard Tracy Lis, the nation's fourth-leading scorer, to just eight points, 18 points below her season average.

"We take some comfort in the fact that we held the leading scoring team to 64 points, and they scored nine in the last minute," said Fennelly, two-time MAC Coach of the Year.

Maryland coach Chris Weller said: "They're a really good team and a good tournament team. They've got a really good reputation for playing well on the road."

Defense is the hallmark of the Rockets' attack. They have the third-best percentage defense in the nation, holding teams to a 34.5 percent field-goal clip. The defense is centered around 6-foot-5 sophomore Stephanie Vivenot, the fifth-leading shot blocker in the nation (3.5 per game).

Offensively, five players average in double figures, led by sophomore guard Dana Drew (14.8), the only Rocket to make the all-conference first team, and senior backcourt mate Jane Roman (12.0).


Though the Rockets prefer an up-tempo game, Fennelly says he hopes to keep the score in the upper 60s or low 70s.

"We do not want to get into a flat-out running game with Maryland," said Fennelly. "We're not naive enough to think we can run up and down the court and beat Maryland at their own game."

But Weller, whose team has lost four of its past seven and hasn't played since its opening-round ACC tournament loss to Georgia Tech two weeks ago, says she's concerned about Toledo's experience.

"We only have two people in the starting lineup who have been in an NCAA tournament game," said Weller. "Can we play at this level with such inexperience? That's going to be a real challenge for us."