COLLEGE PARK - Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman spent most of the final 10 minutes of top seed Maryland's 82-53 NCAA tournament first-round victory over 16th seed Dartmouth yesterday afternoon reclining on the Terrapins' bench, with their warm-up shirts on and towels draped across their legs. It was a big change from what the two seniors went through two weeks earlier, when they rarely left the court and survived close games in winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.
"It's definitely good, but at the same time, being seniors and this being our last NCAA tournament, Kristi and I would rather play the entire 40 minutes," Coleman said. "I guess we've got to be able to share the minutes and rest a bit for Utah."
Maryland (29-4) will play ninth seed Utah (23-9), 60-30 winners over eighth seed Villanova, in a Raleigh Regional second-round game at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The teams have met only once before, and it came in the 2006 tournament, when Toliver and Coleman were freshmen. The Terrapins won in overtime, 75-65, to earn a spot in the Final Four.
Coleman acknowledged pressing a little bit at the start of this, her final NCAA tournament, and her second-to-last game at Comcast Center. She missed her first shot and airballed her second attempt, and her third was blocked by Brittney Smith, the Ivy League Player of the Year.
"Coach B [Brenda Frese] just pulled me to the side and said, 'You know, if you're not hitting your shots, you do too many other things for us,' " said Coleman, who averaged 22.3 points in her previous 12 games. "I really wanted to focus on that. If I wasn't hitting my shots or getting any looks, just be able to rebound and defend and find my teammates."
Coleman finished with nine points - the first time she didn't reach double digits in scoring in 2009 - but had 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. She also helped defend Smith, who made just four of 19 shots and scored 13 points.
Toliver, meanwhile, was sharp from the very beginning in front of an enthusiastic announced crowd of 10,847. She made her first four shots, including two three-pointers, as Maryland took a 20-7 lead over the first eight minutes. She was aggressive, and her teammates made a point of looking for her; five of her nine first-half baskets came off assists. Shortly before halftime, Coleman snagged a defensive rebound and slung a no-look pass to Toliver for a fast-break layup.
At halftime, Toliver had as many points (23) as Dartmouth did, and Maryland led by 19. For the game, Toliver scored 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting and had four assists and no turnovers.
"I love seeing when Kristi is in that kind of attack mode," Frese said. "I think it really helps our team when she's being aggressive and they have to find a way to stop her."
Said Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus: "I don't think we're the only ones she presents problems for. Everyone seems to have problems with her. ... She's the type of player that she probably has to stop herself before anyone else in the nation is going to stop her."
Toliver and Coleman are the only players left from the 2005-06 NCAA championship team, and sophomores Marah Strickland (10 points) and Drey Mingo (eight) were the only other players with postseason experience heading into ACC tournament. Yesterday's blowout victory was a good opportunity for some of the younger Terrapins to get a taste of the NCAA tournament and for the veterans to cheer them on.
"It's so crucial for them to get a feel for what the NCAA tournament is like," Toliver said of the younger players. "I love seeing my teammates succeed and do great things - that's what I enjoy most."
MARYLAND (29-4) VS. UTAH (23-9)
Tomorrow, 7 p.m.