College Park -No dipping their toes into the NCAA tournament pool for the Maryland women. They know they're good, know how far they can go, and know no reason to ease into their run at a second championship in four years.
At Comcast Center yesterday, the top-seeded Terps didn't hesitate in dominating Dartmouth from the get-go. Then, when asked whether this game was a real indication of how ready they are for the rest of the tournament, they didn't hesitate in answering.
"We knew we were ready before the game today because I think we were extremely focused and we had good practices," said Marissa Coleman, who overwhelmed nearly everybody around her without having to score much.
"We're ready. We showed that today with the way we came out," added Kristi Toliver, the only player yesterday Coleman couldn't overwhelm, because she was so dominant herself.
And if the seniors say so, the pair that was on the scene three years ago when they cut down the nets in Boston - and there the next two years when they fell painfully short of completing the journey again - it has to be true. Coleman and Toliver will be the barometers for what the Terps are doing and feeling as they make one last run at, as they call it, "hanging another banner."
If the momentum of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship was going to carry over, those two would do the heavy lifting. They made it almost too easy yesterday. Especially Toliver, whose performance, coach Brenda Frese said, was "flawless."
Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus added, "She's the type of player that probably has to stop herself before anyone else in the nation is going to stop her."
Scoring as many points by herself in the first half (23) as Dartmouth's entire team only scratched the surface of how well she played. Toliver did it without forcing anything, while in the flow of the game, scoring in transition, taking and hitting the many open shots her teammates' presence created.
Coleman was usually the catalyst, clicking on two of the prettiest passes of the game for layups by Toliver, on the break, one in each half, one on a no-look, one a bounce pass behind her to her trailing senior teammate.
Often that connection began with smothering defense; Dartmouth hit just three of its first 20 shots and was shut out for the first 4 1/2 minutes. Toliver wasn't even needed for the last 11 1/2 minutes (otherwise, Maryland's single-game NCAA scoring list would look different today), Coleman the last nine.
All in all, it was as if the two weeks since their prior game were just two days. Never mind that it was just the 16th seed, from the Ivy League, not much of a gauge of what Maryland will face from now on. The Terps had an edge. They appear to have plenty to last five more games.
Maryland's second-round opponent, No. 9 seed Utah, slapped Villanova around in the Comcast opener. The Terps expect Utah to be as much of a threat as it was three years ago in the regional finals, when Maryland won in overtime on the way to the title.
But Utah had better be not just on its game tomorrow; it had better be above it. With the groove Maryland is in already, nothing less will even keep the game close.
Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.
Toliver leads Terps in first-round rout of Dartmouth PG 7