COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The anger and embarrassment of seeing their unbeaten season and No. 1 ranking come crashing to Earth with a thud at Duke sat in the collective pit of the Maryland women's basketball team for six days, and all that emotion was bound to spill over one way or another.
The release came late in the third-ranked Terps' 95-68 win over Virginia at Comcast Center last night after Marissa Coleman hit Laura Harper in stride on a fast break with a behind-the-back pass with 4:48 remaining.
Harper converted the layup and met Coleman in midair with a chest bump, indicating, perhaps, to the basketball world that the Terps' funk was over.
"I just knew [Coleman] was going to try and do something ... at that point in the game, to kind of thank the crowd for coming," said Harper, who had a team-high 21 points, as well as eight rebounds and five blocked shots. "She's a passer, so I knew she was going to throw it. I knew she wouldn't shoot that."
The Terps (19-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who played indifferent defense last Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium, showed a home audience of 11,118 that when they're interested and willing, they can make stops, as Virginia shot 41 percent from the field, while Maryland won the rebounding battle 49-32.
"I was very pleased in terms of our improvement defensively," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought we really focused and brought a lot more energy to the game [last night]. The challenge is to be able to consistently do that, especially from the defensive end."
In the aftermath of the Duke debacle, Frese and the coaching staff spent the week asking the Terps to step out of their comfort zone, namely their reliance on offense, and save for a stretch in the second half when Virginia converted on seven straight possessions, Maryland played solid team defense.
And Frese was particularly pleased with point guard Kristi Toliver's floor leadership. The 5-foot-7 sophomore was badly outplayed last week by Duke senior Lindsey Harding, but bounced back nicely last night with 20 points and seven assists.
"There was only one thing we could do [after the Duke game] and that was to recover and regroup," Toliver said. "I think [last night] we showed that we were more of a mature bunch. We could have folded again in this game. [Virginia] is a talented team. We just came out with a lot of confidence and a lot of focus. The practices that we've had have been all about focus and all about communication, so we transferred that to the game [last night]."
Said Frese: "Kristi Toliver, in the locker room, talked about being a leader and really communicating. That was the best game I've seen her play in terms of leadership. Every player stepped up, and what they said they wanted to get done, I really think they worked hard toward achieving that."
The Terps got out to a slow start, as the Cavaliers (12-6, 2-2) largely limited Maryland to one shot per possession in the initial going. However, a 14-0 run over a three-minute span, punctuated by a three-pointer by Toliver and two free throws, gave the Terps an 18-6 lead five minutes in, and the rout appeared on.
But Virginia gamely hung in defensively, using interior size to push the Maryland interior players off the block, and the Cavaliers got to within nine on a layup by Lyndra Littles with 5:12 remaining in the half.
However, Harper, a 6-foot-4 junior, helped break things open for good with a layup at the 4:12 mark and a three-point play with 1:54 remaining, as Maryland closed the half on a 10-4 spurt to lead by 15 at the break.
"After the Duke game, I personally realized that intensity needs to be brought, even more, from every single person. I just tried to come out a little bit more intense, with a little more energy. Things went well."
VIRGINIA-Littles 10-23 3-3 23, Williams 6-11 0-0 12, Zoll 3-8 0-0 7, McGuire 1-3 0-0 3, Wright 4-12 2-2 10, Millner 0-0 1-3 1, Kellum 5-12 0-2 10, Hartig 0-0 0-0 0, Robertson 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 30-73 6-10 68. MARYLAND-Harper 8-14 5-6 21, Coleman 6-11 4-4 16, Langhorne 7-10 3-6 17, Toliver 6-9 5-6 20, Doron 3-7 2-2 9, Wiley-Gatewood 0-2 2-2 2, Marrone 0-0 0-0 0, Newman 3-8 1-1 8, Noirez 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 1-7 0-0 2. Totals 34-68 22-27 95. Half-Maryland 42-27. 3-point goals-Virginia 2-9 (McGuire 1-3, Zoll 1-4, Wright 0-2), Maryland 5-11 (Toliver 3-4, Doron 1-2, Newman 1-2, Wiley-Gatewood 0-1, Coleman 0-2). Fouled out-Doron. Rebounds-Virginia 32 (Williams 9), Maryland 49 (Langhorne 12). Assists-Virginia 19 (Zoll 11), Maryland 18 (Toliver 7). Total fouls-Virginia 18, Maryland 16. A-11,118.