GREENSBORO, N.C. - Marissa Coleman is used to feeling a little bit anxious this time of year, when the Maryland women's basketball team gears up for the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments. But something seems different this season.
"You know, you always have jitters going into tournaments and stuff like that. You always have doubts or you're second-guessing yourself," Coleman said. "But I don't think any of us are doing that right now. We are playing so well right now; we have so much confidence in our game and each other's games right now. Honestly, I think the only reason we could lose is if we beat ourselves."
No team in the conference has been hotter the past month than Maryland (25-4, 12-2), which won nine straight games to secure the top overall seed in the tournament for the first time since 1989. The Terrapins will face ninth-seeded Wake Forest (19-10, 6-9) in the quarterfinals today at 3 p.m. at Greensboro Coliseum. Maryland beat the Demon Deacons in the regular season, 92-65.
Much of Maryland's confidence and success of late has stemmed from the play of its seniors, Coleman and Kristi Toliver, who were named first-team All-ACC on Monday. During the past nine games, Coleman is averaging 22 points and 8.2 rebounds, and Toliver is averaging 19.4 points.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency, but I think we're just more comfortable with the system and the new players that we have," Toliver said after Maryland's regular-season home finale, an 86-74 win over Boston College on Friday.
The Terrapins lost four key seniors from last season's team: guard Ashleigh Newman and posts Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper and Jade Perry. Toliver and Coleman had played alongside those players for more than 100 games, and they won a national championship together.
"With Marissa and KT, not only did they lose the chemistry on the court, they lost some of their best friends," coach Brenda Frese said. "So I think not only from a playing end, but a psychological end, it just took some time."
Langhorne, the 2008 ACC Player of the Year, and Harper left the biggest void, and the players who replaced them came in with impeccable credentials: Freshman Lynetta Kizer was a McDonald's All-American, and junior Dee Liles was the national junior college Player of the Year. But still, "I had to show them what I can do," said Liles, who averages 11 points and 8.6 rebounds.
"With Harp and Lang, we just had such an advantage playing with them for so long," Coleman said. "You know when you're playing with freshmen or even Dee, who's in her first year playing in the ACC, it's different. It's going to take time to adjust and get acclimated to things."
Toliver and Coleman point to their 68-65 loss at Duke on Jan. 12 as the turning point of the season, because of the way their team fought through adversity in a tough place to play.
The Terrapins, who are not overly deep to begin with, did not have sophomore guard Marah Strickland (out with an illness), and Coleman was sidelined for much of the final 10 minutes with leg cramps.
Yet Maryland battled back from a 13-point first-half deficit and had a chance to win the game. Redshirt freshman Anjal? Barrett hit two timely three-pointers as the Terrapins made their second-half comeback, and also had four assists and no turnovers.
"I know for me personally, when I came back out [to the court] after dealing with my cramp issue, and seeing we were down by only one point and how well [Barrett] was playing, that gave me a lot of confidence in my teammates at that point," Coleman said. "It showed just how far we'd come."
NO. 5 MARYLAND (25-4, 12-2) VS. WAKE FOREST (19-10, 6-9)
Today, 3 p.m., Greensboro, N.C.
TV: Comcast SportsNet