Coleman, Terps set to go west

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -- The weather forecast for Spokane, Wash., this weekend calls for cold and dank conditions with a chance of rain and snow showers each day.

Right about now, however, that sounds like a weekend in Aruba to Marissa Coleman.

Not only is Spokane home to some of Coleman's family, it's also the site of one of the women's NCAA tournament regionals. The 6-foot-1 junior forward did her share Tuesday night to get a trip to visit her relatives out West and to bring her Maryland teammates along for the reunion.

With the Terps reeling early in the second half of their 76-64 win over Nebraska, Coleman carried Maryland with nine straight points in a two-minute stretch, including a critical three-pointer that broke a 45-all tie and gave Maryland the lead for good.

"In the first half, I wasn't playing as well as I'd like to," said Coleman, who scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half. "Coach B [Brenda Frese] kept pulling me aside and motivating me. We wanted to get out of College Park. That's all we've kept talking about. I was getting the ball in the right places and being aggressive."

Indeed, Coleman and point guard Kristi Toliver, a fellow junior, helped get the top-seeded Terps (32-3) about as far from Comcast Center as they can get in the continental United States and into a berth in Saturday's Sweet 16 game against Vanderbilt (25-8).

"Coleman had such a great start to the second half," Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. "She is a difficult kid to match with and Toliver does a great job controlling the game and getting Maryland in their sets. We are not as big or physical as they are and the rebounding part is what it really boiled down to."

Despite shooting only 43 percent from the field, the Terps controlled the boards 47-34, avoiding the second-round trap that has cornered them in recent years -- particularly last year, when they were humiliated by Mississippi in defense of their 2006 title.

"Mentally, from our end it was going to be a big hurdle for us because this is the round we were knocked out in last year," Frese said. "I thought mentally we had to keep this team in a great place with their confidence level and knowing they could achieve success [Tuesday]. I felt like that was going to be a big obstacle and I also knew that Nebraska was really good."

Indeed, the Cornhuskers (21-12), who had never advanced past the second round, pushed the veteran Terps virtually to the wire, twice whittling double-digit deficits to four points or fewer before Maryland took control down the stretch.

Maryland concluded an unbeaten home season with 21 wins, tying Nevada-Las Vegas' 1978-79 team with what is believed to be an NCAA single-season record.

The Terrapins now face a fourth-seeded Vanderbilt team that has won 12 of its past 14 games and finished third in the Southeastern Conference.

The Terps didn't get any favors from the NCAA or ESPN, which scheduled them to play in one of the late slots Tuesday night. The game was a full day after the ones for the three other teams in the Spokane regional, including second seed Stanford and No. 6 Pittsburgh, which will meet in the other semifinal.

Maryland, which left campus yesterday, also has the longest trek of the four Spokane teams.

But the Terrapins know that the three times they have advanced to a Final Four, they came from the westernmost region. And they have the incentive of helping one of their own get to spend time with family.

"I don't think you are going to find a happier team than us to be in the Sweet 16," Coleman said. " ... This was kind of a hump for us to get over. We've talked about it all week that our goal wasn't to get to the Final Four, but to get out of College Park and take it step by step."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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