SPOKANE, Wash. -- From the start of preseason in October, it was clear that the Maryland women's basketball team had learned lessons from its disastrous second-round loss to Mississippi in last year's NCAA tournament. The Terps valued the ball more, their execution was crisper and they remembered to get the ball inside to All-America second-team center Crystal Langhorne.
In the end, however, their deepest flaw from the 2006-07 season, occasionally porous perimeter defense, doomed them in Monday's regional final. Stanford torched the Terps with a barrage of three-pointers to send Maryland home in disappointment for a second straight year.
The Terps (33-4), who gave up a season-high 98 points in an 11-point loss to the Cardinal, gave up 14 threes to Stanford and allowed senior All-America guard Candice Wiggins to score 41 points. The game might re-open questions over whether Maryland's 2006 championship run was the start of something lasting or merely three weeks of superior play from a team that has yet to return to that level when it mattered.
Unlike the 2006-07 season, when the Terps largely faltered against high-level competition, this season's Maryland team had a number of signature wins. And the Terps got them while having to adjust to two new assistant coaches, Daron Park and Diane Richardson, not to mention the near season-long distraction of head coach Brenda Frese's pregnancy and her absences.
"This year will always have an asterisk on it because Brenda wasn't there the whole time," television analyst Debbie Antonelli said. "These kids are on autopilot in some regards. That's no disrespect to Brenda or Daron [who took over the team in Frese's absences], but it's just that they understand what it takes."
The key to next season for the Terps lies in filling the gaping hole left by the departures of seniors Langhorne and Laura Harper, arguably the best frontcourt tandem in program history. Langhorne, the program's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and Harper, the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four two years ago, take more than 3,500 combined points and 2,200 combined career rebounds with them to the WNBA, where they are likely to be drafted in the first round next week.
Freshman Drey Mingo, who started the season well but appeared to lose favor in midseason, will be the favorite for one starting frontcourt slot next year. Incoming junior college transfer forward Demauria Liles, selected the best junior college player in the country by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, and incoming freshman Lynetta Kizer, a 6-foot-3 center from Woodbridge, Va., ranked No. 1 among high school post players by Hoopgurlz.com, will challenge for the other front-line position. Redshirt freshman Emery Wallace provides depth at small forward.
The cornerstone for Maryland next year will be juniors Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman. Toliver, who had a career-high 35 points in Monday's loss, will start the year as perhaps the nation's best returning point guard, while Coleman might challenge Langhorne for the all-time scoring lead. The 6-foot-1 Coleman, the team's most versatile player, plays small forward but could get extended minutes at the power forward slot next year depending on matchups.
And the Terps, who essentially played with one true point guard, Toliver, should have some backcourt depth for next season. Freshmen Kim Rodgers and Anjale Barrett and senior Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood all are returning from knee injuries, while Frese continues to develop freshman Kat Lyons. Freshman Marah Strickland (Towson Catholic), who started all season and had a strong postseason, is the incumbent starting shooting guard.
This season, the Terps' old struggles with teams with good guard play surfaced occasionally. But Monday night, Stanford, the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional behind Maryland, was able to combine a solid perimeter with a good inside game to oust the Terps from the tournament.
"They're just obviously so dangerous when they're hitting threes with the kind of inside presence that they have," Frese said. "We really felt like we wanted to stick to our game plan, that eventually those shots weren't going to continue to fall. As much game film that we had watched on them, we felt like the percentages were going to even up. But ... all the credit goes to Stanford for just making so many great shots in this game."