RALEIGH, N.C. -When the final buzzer sounded and top seed Maryland had finally put away fourth seed Vanderbilt, 78-74, in a heart-stopping NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinal Saturday afternoon, senior Marissa Coleman dropped to the RBC Center floor and squatted with her head down for a couple of seconds. The normally exuberant senior forward needed to catch her breath and rest for a moment.
"I was exhausted," she said. And with good reason: Coleman played all 40 minutes, scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and made countless clutch plays in a game in which Maryland trailed by 18 points and didn't take its first lead until 2:17 remained.
Fellow senior Kristi Toliver scored 17 points. She and Coleman, the only two holdovers from the 2006 NCAA championship team, combined for 37 of the Terrapins' 42 second-half points, with Coleman scoring the decisive final four points.
"What more can you say about Marissa? I mean, just her will to win," said coach Brenda Frese, whose team will be playing in its second straight regional final. "Both of these two, every game they just step up with that will, that heart, that determination. What a phenomenal performance by this team."
The Terrapins (31-4) will face third seed Louisville at 7 p.m. Monday in the Raleigh Regional final. The Cardinals (32-4) are coached by former Maryland assistant Jeff Walz.
Coleman, who made 15 of 27 shots from the field and 10 of 11 from the foul line in setting a program record for points in a game, is usually one of the most expressive players on the court. But she rarely smiled Saturday; instead, she gritted her teeth and kept her jaw set in a determined line.
"I think she had that kind of persona today because she understood that if we didn't pick it up, this could possibly have been her last game," said redshirt freshman Kim Rodgers, who had five points and 12 rebounds.
Vanderbilt (26-9) has two standout seniors of its own, forward Christina Wirth (28 points) and guard Jennifer Risper (13), and that pair helped the Southeastern Conference champion control most of the game. Wirth made five three-pointers, and Risper, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, caused problems at times for Coleman and Toliver.
But ultimately the Commodores had no answer for Coleman. They built a 33-15 lead over the first 13 1/2 minutes, but Coleman scored 13 points in a 21-6 Maryland run that closed the half. After she pulled up for a long jumper to bring the Terrapins to within 39-36 shortly before the break, she ran down the court, shaking her head.
Maryland trailed 68-57 after freshman center Lynetta Kizer was assessed a technical foul and Merideth Marsh (12 points) made both free throws. Then Coleman took over; she drew the fourth foul on Risper and then backed her down to score inside. Toliver made a three-pointer from the right side, and Wirth countered with one from the left. Coleman scored seven straight points, attacking the basket each time, to cut the Commodores' lead to 71-69 with 3:44 to play.
Maryland took the lead, 72-71, and Wirth tied the score at 72 with a free throw. Toliver responded by knifing through the defense for a layup. Wirth again tied the score on free throws; Coleman scored on a soft pull-up jumper in the lane with 27.9 seconds left to give Maryland the lead for good.
"It probably started when Kristi and I were freshmen, all the close games we had, all the overtime games that kind of defined us there," Coleman said. "This team is never out of a game. It doesn't matter how many points we're down, we're going to fight. ... We're never going to fold, we're never going to give up."
by the numbers
42: School-record points
(23 in second half)
32: Her previous career high
15-for-27: Shooting from the field
10-for-11: Shooting from the
15: Rebounds (nine in second half)
18: Terps' biggest deficit
2:07: Time left when Maryland took its first lead
27.9: Seconds left when Coleman hit winning basket