The late show

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -- Late last night, probably after you put the kids to bed - maybe after you put yourself to bed - the Maryland women's basketball team, a parade of shouts and screams, rolled into its Comcast Center locker room one final time this season.

"Sixteen, baby!" shouted senior Crystal Langhorne, putting an exclamation point on the Terps' spot in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

If it was too late for you to make the trek to College Park on a weeknight, the game was televised. But if you flipped on ESPN, you probably saw an inconsequential National Invitation Tournament matchup. You had to go to ESPN2 for the women's NCAA tournament, where the Terps took on Nebraska in a game that was trying its best to outlast Jay Leno.

We won't turn this into an ESPN-bash session, but we would be remiss if we didn't at least point out that while the Terps might be picking up victories on the court - last night's 76-64 win over Nebraska was just the latest - off the court, they've run into some less-than-stellar luck this March.

No worries, though, because in a hold-your-breath second half last night, the Terps showed once again they have no intentions of making anything look easy. Before we get to that, here's the nickel tour through Maryland's March madness thus far:

A first-round game on Easter.

A second-round game that didn't tip off until 9:53 p.m. and stretched until nearly midnight.

The fact that the Terps board a charter plane this afternoon for Spokane, Wash., while the other three other Spokane teams had the luxury of playing Monday, giving them each more than a full day's head start in preparing for the Sweet 16.

And the guarantee that after scooting by the Cornhuskers, the Terps now have at least one more late start awaiting them. Saturday's game against Vanderbilt tips off at 9 .m.

"First of all, I'm glad you all stayed up so late to watch this tremendous win," is how coach Brenda Frese opened her post-game news conference last night.

For the record, Kathy Worthington, Maryland's senior associate athletic director, said the Terps were "ecstatic" to be on national television, but "disappointed" in the late start.

Worthington said school officials had discussions and made sure the network and the NCAA knew what might best suit Terps fans. But being the No. 1 seed and the site host doesn't give a school much scheduling muscle.

"We let them know what we prefer, crowd-wise," Worthington said. "But prime time for national TV isn't the same as prime time for our fans here." (Rotten start times aside, the final attendance figures were higher than those from any other first- and second-round site.)

Fortunately for Terps fans, despite the inconvenience (and the late-night pot of coffee), things are looking much better on the court. Maryland will pack a bit of momentum with them in their carry-on luggage to Spokane.

After a ho-hum tournament opener against Coppin State, almost across the board, the Terps played with more energy and seem to be within flirting distance of their true potential.

Despite a season's worth of evidence to the contrary, there were actually signs of a bench early on last night. Jade Perry was tied for the team lead in scoring at the half with eight points. They controlled the ball, hit their free throws and owned the middle when it counted most.

Despite the late tip, there were some in Maryland jerseys who waited even longer to start playing. Junior Marissa Coleman wasn't a factor in the first half, but her 15 second-half points spurred the Terps' exciting finish and helped them stave off a late Nebraska charge. "I knew at some point Marissa was going to click it on," Frese said.

Coleman finished with 19, after she and her fellow starters shot a combined 6-for-26 in the first half.

In fact, in the opening minutes of the second half, when Nebraska cut the Maryland lead to 41-40 the Terps' high-powered offense was sputtering. The Terps were scattering their shots like a water sprinkler. While Langhorne was 2-for-5 from the field, Coleman was 1-for-7, Kristi Toliver 3-for-12, Marah Strickland 1-for-5 and Laura Harper 1-for-6. Thanks to strong play in the paint, they shot 51.5 percent in the second half.

Their reward is at least one more game that will be broadcast at a perfect hour for most of the country but will require an afternoon nap for Maryland's fan base.

That doesn't seem to bother the Terps at all - "We just wanted to get out of College Park," Coleman said.

So, sure, Vanderbilt has more time to study film, and sure, other teams might have an extra day to adjust to the time difference. But it almost makes sense for this team to find the toughest path possible.

It hasn't always been easy, but the Maryland women are still alive. All Terps fans have to do now is stay awake.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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