ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- To reach the Final Four, the shortest players on the Maryland women's basketball team may have to play bigger roles.
Five-foot-nine junior guard Shay Doron, 5-7 freshman point guard Kristi Toliver and 6-1 freshman forward Marissa Coleman each have battled balky shooting streaks in recent games that have led to some closer-than-expected outcomes.
Their importance will be magnified tonight when the second-seeded Terps meet No. 3 seed and defending national champion Baylor in an Albuquerque Regional semifinal tonight at 9 at Bob King Court at the University of New Mexico.
Maryland (30-4) is trying to earn its first berth in a regional final since 1992. The Lady Bears (26-6) are making their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
To ensure a new champion, however, the Terps' perimeter players are aware that tonight is not the time to struggle.
"We're definitely going to need our outside game and be on point tomorrow," Toliver said. "In the past few games, it has been very post-oriented, and that's kind of what our main focus was. So we definitely need to step up, but I think we're definitely capable of getting back into the swing of things."
Maryland's strength has been its balance on offense with five starters averaging double digits in points. Yet Toliver and Coleman acknowledged that the team has relied on its post presence of sophomore center Crystal Langhorne (16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game), sophomore forward Laura Harper (11.3 and 7.1) and sophomore forward Jade Perry (two 18-point efforts in the last three games) in victories over Sacred Heart and St. John's in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
As the Terps' coaching staff emphasized getting the ball to the post players in the first two wins, the perimeter players have had trouble getting into the offensive flow.
Doron scored 17 points in the team's 95-54 triumph against Sacred Heart, but scored just 10 on 3-for-13 shooting in two previous games. Toliver hasn't reached double digits in her past three games and hit four of 15 shots in the 81-74 win over St. John's.
Coleman has scored at least 11 points in four of her past five games, but she shot a combined 14 of 34 during a three-game stretch against Duke, North Carolina and Sacred Heart. And sophomore guard Ashleigh Newman, the first guard off the bench, endured a stretch of 11 consecutive games with fewer than nine points.
Langhorne, who had 30 points and nine rebounds against St. John's, defended the play of her teammates, saying: "I really don't think our guards have struggled that much. Our coaches stressed so much getting the ball into the post the past few games that they haven't been asked to score as much because of that. I do think it's going to be important for them to get back into the offensive flow."
The backcourt has the green light to continue shooting from coach Brenda Frese, who has refrained from ordering a struggling player to stop launching jumpers.
"Shooting is a lot about mentality and confidence, and when the person who has your playing time on the line is telling you to keep shooting, that definitely helps your confidence," Doron said. "But we know better than that. We know that we're great shooters."
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson did not disagree. She expressed admiration for Maryland's offensive balance.
"You're going to have to guard them honestly," she said yesterday. "I don't think you can focus in on one player, [and] I don't think you can focus in on one position. ... The amazing thing about Maryland to me is how young they are and how good they are. Usually, they are juniors and seniors when they are having the kind of year Maryland has. They're young, and it's amazing what they are doing."
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Baylor
What -- NCAA women's tournament Albuquerque Regional semifinal
Site -- Bob King Court, Albuquerque, N.M.
Time -- 9
TV -- ESPN
Records -- Maryland 30-4, Baylor 26-6.
Key matchup -- Lady Bears senior forward Sophia Young is the epitome of a go-to player. Young, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year who leads the team in scoring (22.2 points per game), rebounding (10.0) and field-goal percentage (.551), can hit the 15- to 18-foot jumper or take a defender into the paint for a score. With the Terps intent on keeping sophomore center Crystal Langhorne out of foul trouble, the responsibility of guarding Young will likely fall on sophomore forwards Laura Harper and Jade Perry.
Outlook -- Baylor is experienced but short on depth. After Young and sophomore point guard Angela Tisdale, no other Lady Bear averages more than 10 points a game. If Baylor gets into foul trouble, coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson has only 10 players able to play. Langhorne, Harper and Perry will try to outmuscle the Lady Bears down low. If junior guard Shay Doron and freshmen Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman can rediscover their offense, Maryland should make the regional final.